11 May 2004 – LAWFUEL – An immigration official pleaded guilty today to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes from immigrants who received work permits in exchange for the graft.
Nancy Stephenson, 55, of San Juan Capistrano, pleaded guilty this afternoon in United States District Court in Santa Ana to two federal charges – bribery and issuing work permits fraudulently. During the time of the illegal conduct, Stephenson worked as an adjudications officer at the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s California Service Center in Laguna Niguel. (INS became part of the Department of Homeland Security in March 2003, and Stephenson’s unit is now called Citizenship and Immigration Services.)
As part of her official duties, Stephenson was authorized to adjudicate Forms I-140, which are employment-based immigration petitions. Stephenson was not authorized to adjudicate and approve Forms I-765, which are applications for work permits.
Beginning in March 2002 or perhaps earlier, Stephenson began stamping work permits as “approved,” despite lacking the authority to approve applications for work permits. Stephenson made the fraudulent “approvals” using a coded INS stamp issued to her. Officials with the agency now called Citizenship and Immigration Services traced the issuance of the unauthorized permits to Stephenson through her coded stamp.
In many cases, INS sent requests for additional evidence to the immigrants who were seeking work permits. In those cases, Stephenson would have the requests sent directly to her from the applicants, and she would then make an entries in official records indicating receipt of evidence from the applicants. In reality, the immigrants did not send in the requested evidence. Stephenson would then make an entry in INS computer records indicating approval of the applications and issuance of work permits to the applicants. INS then sent the work permits to the immigrants.
In exchange for the work permits, immigrants paid Stephenson and her co-schemers up to $4,000.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Stephenson acknowledged issuing as many as 99 work permits during the course of the scheme. Most of the applicants were members of the Samoan and Filipino communities in Southern California.
Citizenship and Immigration Services suspended Stephenson without pay in June 2003, and she was indicted by a federal grand jury the following month.
Stephenson worked with two co-defendants who assisted by recruiting applicants, submitting application forms and collecting payments from the applicants. Loreta Mose, 45, of Long Beach, and Orlando Cariaga, 51, of Cerritos, have pleaded guilty to procuring work permits by fraud and aiding and abetting Stephenson. They each face up to 10 years in federal prison when they are sentenced in September.
All three defendants pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Gary L. Taylor. Stephenson is scheduled to be sentenced on August 12, at which time she faces a maximum possible sentence of 25 years in federal prison.
This case was investigated by the Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General.