SANTA ANA, Calif. LAWFUEL – Best law news, attorney, law firm, legal, criminal news & legal research – Federal authorities today filed charges against three Southern California men who allegedly orchestrated a “green card” fraud scheme that allowed hundreds of aliens – most of them illegal aliens – to reside and work in the United States.
In exchange for $5,500 payments from aliens, the defendants would file applications for permanent residency cards, commonly called “green cards,” that falsely claimed the aliens were married to United States citizens. Immigration officials would immediately issue work documents to the aliens while their green card applications were being processed.
The three defendants charged today are:
* Sonny Edward Tabula, 65, of Orange, California;
* Ernest Joseph Busto, 53, of Orange, California; and
* Eduardo Palacios, 40, of Granada Hills, California.
The criminal informations filed against each defendant this morning charge five counts of making false statements to the federal agency formerly called the Immigration and Naturalization Service. (In the spring of 2003, INS was broken into three agencies, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which now processes green card applications. The three new immigration agencies are now part of the Department of Homeland Security.)
The investigation in this case uncovered the largest green card fraud ring in Orange County and is expected to impact more than 1,000 aliens who currently have applications pending before immigration officials.
Court documents allege that Tabula, Busto and Palacios ran an extensive scheme that promised immigration documents to illegal aliens. From 2001 into 2003, Tabula, Busto and Palacios used “runners” or “agents” to identify illegal aliens who wanted to obtain green cards. Tabula and Busto held themselves out as a service that would assist the aliens in having their green card applications processed. Tabula was known throughout Southern California as a person who could obtain green cards for aliens who were unable to apply through normal channels, including those residing illegally in the United States.
As part of the scheme, Tabula had the runners obtain documentation from the illegal aliens and a payment of $5,500 from each applicant. Tabula, Busto and Palacios would put together an application packet that stated that the applicant was married to a U.S. citizen, when in fact the applicant was not. The applications submitted to the INS contained bogus marriage certificates and other documents that Palacios made at his home. Court documents allege that Tabula, Busto and Palacios split the majority of the $5,500 fee amongst themselves, with Tabula receiving approximately $3,000.
After the green card application was submitted, INS issued a work authorization card called an Employment Authorization Document, which allowed the alien to remain in the country while awaiting the issuance of a green card.
Court documents show that federal agents conducted searches of various residences and found well over 1,000 applications for permanent residency in various stages of completion and approximately $500,000 in cash.
“Identifying and dismantling criminal organizations that compromise the security and integrity of our legal immigration system is one of our top enforcement priorities,” said Kumar Kibble, assistant special agent-in-charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Orange County. “We’re determined to go after those who put this country’s safety at stake for their own profit.”
As a result of the charges filed today, Tabula, Busto and Palacios each face a maximum possible penalty of 50 years in federal prison, a 15-year period of supervised release and a fine of $1.25 million (or twice the gross gain resulting from the offenses).
Busto and Palacios are scheduled to appear for arraignment in United States District Court in Santa Ana on November 1. Tabula is scheduled to appear for arraignment on November 8.
This joint investigation is the product of an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.