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May 9, 2013

5 charged in CA immigration scam

LOS ANGELES — Four federal law enforcement officers were charged with accepting cash, a TV, and plane tickets among bribes dating back more than a decade to help dozens of foreigners enter the country, authorities announced Wednesday.

The ongoing investigation ensnared employees from three different federal agencies and is the latest in a series of incidents involving government employees accused of trying to sneak people into the United States.

Among those charged with conspiracy to commit bribery are James Dominguez, 46, a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Jesus Figueroa, 66, a supervisory officer with Citizenship and Immigration Services and Michael Anders, 53, a Customs and Border Protection officer.

Also charged were Paul Lovingood, 71, who retired last year from Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Mirei Gia Hoffman, 38, a native of Japan, who was seeking legal status in the U.S.

Federal prosecutors said immigration lawyer Kwang Man Lee, who was previously charged in a related case, paid bribes to the officers to secure admission stamps and lawful permanent residence status for people who paid fees ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $50,000.

The bribes ranged from as little as $50 to as much as $10,000, prosecutors said. Lee also is accused of giving Dominguez three round-trip airline tickets to Thailand between 2001 and 2003, and a 47-inch TV to Lovingood earlier this year.

In return, the officers helped more than 35 of Lee’s clients, many from Asian countries, receive legal U.S. status, prosecutors said. One of the examples cited in court documents claims Anders gave security ink to Lee that allowed the attorney to create counterfeit admission stamps.

“The allegations in this case concern federal law enforcement officers selling their services and betraying their oaths to our nation so they could profit from a clandestine immigration fraud ring that allowed scores of aliens to improperly enter and reside in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.

Lee met some of the defendants when he worked as an officer for the now-shuttered Immigration and Naturalization Service, authorities said. It’s unclear if any of the officers charged in this case knew one another.

Immigration fraud involving government employees has been documented before. A Government Accountability Office report in December showed more than 140 current or former employees of Customs and Border Protection, which is responsible for policing the nation’s borders, have been arrested or indicted for corruption-related activities since the 2005 fiscal year.

If convicted of all counts, Figueroa would face a maximum penalty of 80 years in federal prison; Anders would face a maximum 65-year term; and Lovingood and Dominguez would each get a maximum of 20 years in prison.

 

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