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US immigration lawyer arrested for defrauding Caribbean immigrants

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NEW YORK, (CMC) – The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) says an immigration lawyer has been arrested in New York for defrauding immigrants, including Caribbean nationals.

USCIS said on Friday that Gnoleba Seri, 40, of Brooklyn, New York has been charged for immigration fraud and aggravated identity theft.

“Gnoleba Seri allegedly used his legal knowledge to circumvent the law and forge documents that are critical to obtaining an immigrant visa,” said Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“The strength of the United States’ immigration system rests on the integrity of its process, and this office and our law enforcement partners will hold accountable those who undermine that process,” he added.

Acting Special-Agent-in-Charge of the New York Office of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Glenn Sorge, said that Seri allegedly “abused the special trust bestowed upon him as an immigration attorney to commit fraud and identity theft.

“When individuals falsify immigration documents, the system is severely undermined, and the security of our nation is put at risk,” he said. “HSI is committed to working with its law enforcement partners to ensure fraudsters are identified and brought to justice.”

Acting USCIS New York District Director, Timothy Houghton, said the immigration department is “proud to stand by our partners today to send a message that US immigration fraud will not be tolerated.

“We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our nation’s immigration system,” he said.

According to the complaint unsealed on Friday in Manhattan federal court, between October 2012 and April 2015, Seri, a licensed immigration attorney working in Manhattan and Brooklyn, “engaged in a scheme to use personal information contained in legitimate immigration documents for fraudulent purposes.”

In his role as an immigration attorney, Seri submitted falsified and forged I-864 Forms, affidavits of support for those seeking immigrant visas, in support of his clients’ applications for immigration visas and for legal permanent resident status, the compliant said.

Specifically, it said Seri would receive legitimate I-864 Forms, tax information, pay stubs, and W-2 forms from individuals sponsoring his clients, and then fraudulently submitted these documents in applications for other clients.

“That is, Seri submitted I-864 Forms that listed individuals as financial sponsors who had never met the people they were purportedly agreeing to sponsor,” said USCIS, adding that those I-864 Forms included the sponsors’ real names, identifying information and financial information, as well as forged signatures.

“These fraudulent and forged I-864 Forms all listed Seri as the preparer, and many of them were notarized by him,” USCIS continued.

It said Seri is charged with one count of visa fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory consecutive minimum sentence of two years in prison; and one count of mail fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

USCIS said the maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by the US Congress and is provided for informational purposes, “as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.”