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Florida man posing as immigration attorney sentenced to 20 years

A Florida man who posed as an immigration attorney, filing hundreds of fraudulent asylum claims and raising more than $ 411,000 from unwitting clients, has been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison, federal prosecutors said.

The man, Elvis Harold Reyes, 56, of Brandon, Fla., Pleaded guilty in December to charges of mail fraud and aggravated identity theft, and was sentenced Monday to 20 years and nine months, the office of the United States Attorney General for the Central District. from Florida said in a statement.

From 2016 to 2019, Mr. Reyes, who owned and operated a Christian nonprofit group called EHR Ministries Inc., introduced himself as an immigration attorney although he was not licensed to do so, according to court documents. A website for the ministry says it helps prepare immigration documents and applications, provides “wedding ceremony services” and caters to “those far from any home church.”

Prosecutors said Mr Reyes was looking for undocumented immigrants in the Tampa area who were from Spanish-speaking countries and were seeking a driver’s license and work permit in Florida. The clients have retained and paid Mr. Reyes to represent them on immigration-related matters before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and other agencies, prosecutors said.

He charged around $ 5,000 for his services, according to court documents. Losses to the victims totaled more than $ 411,000, and Mr Reyes spent that money on travel, luxury shopping, spa visits, jewelry and an allowance for his girlfriend, prosecutors said. .

In all, Reyes has filed more than 225 fraudulent claims, “with the intention of costing victims more than a million dollars,” the statement said. The court postponed the review of the victim’s restitution to a later date.

“Posing as an immigration attorney, Reyes has targeted hundreds of vulnerable people in the Tampa community with his immigration scam,” said Michael Borgen, Tampa District Director for Citizenship Services and U.S. immigration, in a statement following Mr. Reyes’ conviction. He said his agency was “determined to find and stop those who want to cheat the immigration system and preserve it for those who are entitled to immigration benefits.”

The federal public defender who represented Reyes did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Mr. Reyes was held in the Pinellas County Jail, according to jail records.

Prosecutors said Reyes “gave false, inaccurate and incomplete legal and immigration advice to victims in order to induce them to retain his services and those of EHR ministries.” He has used word of mouth referrals, social media, websites and business cards to market his services, according to court documents.

He filed fraudulent claims on behalf of his victims “asking for asylum assistance and refusal-of-removal protections under the United Nations Convention against Torture,” prosecutors said.

In the requests, Mr. Reyes fabricated stories about the threats and persecution, and his clients’ fear of returning to their home countries, prosecutors said.

Mr Reyes did not inform his victims of the false information he had submitted to immigration authorities on their behalf, nor did he inform them of “the legal, administrative and other immigration-related consequences that might arise from the filing. for asylum or for Convention Against Torture protection, ”according to the US attorney’s office.

Prosecutors said Mr Reyes threatened victims who confronted him by saying he could have them deported. And while he was under investigation, they said, he attempted to obstruct justice by asking a friend to wipe his computers.

Some of Mr Reyes’ victims gathered outside the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa as he was sentenced on Monday. They were holding signs written in Spanish, including one saying, “Elvis Reyes stole our money,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Jesus García Méndez, 38, a Mexican immigrant, told the newspaper that he lost his savings after 10 years of work and was unsure how or if he would be able to sort out the legal situation for him- even and his wife, Angelica.

“I am the father of two children,” he said. “It’s not fair that we are suffering from this situation, but at least we know Reyes won’t hurt more people.”

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Woman who coughed on Pier 1 buyer face sentenced to 30 days

A Florida woman who was seen in a widely watched video intentionally coughing on a shopper at a home goods store on Pier 1 last summer, amid pandemic fears raged, was sentenced Thursday to 30 days in prison, according to court records.

The woman, Debra Hunter, 53, was charged with tortious assault in June after stepping and coughing on customer Heather Sprague, who recorded video of Ms Hunter’s argument with store workers in Jacksonville.

Ms Sprague told the court that she started recording Ms Hunter after watching her employees at the berate store for 15 minutes during an argument over an item Ms Hunter wanted to return.

Ms Sprague said she had had surgery to remove a brain tumor 10 months earlier and was still undergoing treatment when Ms Hunter saw her recording and made an obscene gesture.

“I think I’m going to really get close to you and cough on you, so how’s that?” Ms. Hunter says in the video as she walks over to the cell phone and then coughs. Ms Sprague, who said she was wearing a mask at the time, testified Ms Hunter left sputum on her face.

“The act of the accused coughing in the face at the height of a pandemic was an act that was calculated to attack me at my weakest point, physically and psychologically,” Ms. Sprague told Judge James A. Ruth from Duval County Court, according to a recording of an online sentencing hearing that was released by First Coast News. “I was stunned at the time and more and more fearful afterwards.”

After the meeting, Ms Sprague said, she struggled to find a Covid test, as the diagnoses were not widely available at the time and eventually tested negative.

The episode came during a period of the pandemic where authorities were responding to heated clashes across the country over masks and other precautions, with some of those disputes leading to criminal charges for people spitting or coughing on carpooling drivers, employee police officers. Retail workers also said they suffered verbal abuse – and even threats involving guns – for enforcing mask rules.

Ms Hunter said she felt remorse and guilt for “a very bad decision” that cost her three children almost all of their friends and made her feel like an outcast in her community. She said her children had been greatly affected by the hundreds of text messages, emails, phone calls, social media threats and even hand-delivered letters she received after the video of her coughing on Ms Sprague went off. attracted wide attention.

“The reality is that my family has been definitely marked,” Ms. Hunter told the judge. “And while this scar may fade over time, it will never go away completely. My children shouldn’t have to pay the price for my mistake. “

“I can overcome ostracization,” Ms. Hunter added, according to First Coast News. “I deserve it. Not my children.”

Ms Hunter told the judge the video showed her in the “worst possible light on the worst possible day” and said she felt at the time like a balloon about to burst. Her husband, Doug Hunter, told the court that a fire forced the family out of their home, among other hardships they had endured.

“Everything just kept piling up and stacking and piling up, and I was just trying to push it down,” Ms. Hunter said. “That day the pin got stuck in the balloon, and unfortunately for Mrs. Sprague, you know, she was the recipient of it, and I apologize for that.

Judge Ruth took issue with Ms Hunter’s testimony, saying she expressed more concern for her family than Ms Sprague.

“She talked about how it changed her world and, you know, she gets the nastygrams on Facebook and things of that nature, and they can’t go to the country club or whatever, and they can’t play football. “, did he declare. “I understand that. But I have yet to see any expression – or meaningful expression – of her regret at the impact this has had on the victim in this case. “

In addition to 30 days in jail, Ms. Hunter was sentenced to six months probation and fined $ 500. Judge Ruth also ordered her to take an anger management course, undergo a mental health assessment and participate in follow-up treatment, if necessary.

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Trump inauguration donor sentenced to 12 years in federal inquiry

A California venture capitalist was sentenced to 12 years in prison Thursday after pleading guilty to charges that included obstructing a federal investigation into a donation of nearly $ 1 million to former President Donald’s inaugural committee J. Trump.

The businessman, Imaad Zuberi, was convicted by a federal judge in California and ordered to pay $ 1.75 million in criminal fines and $ 15.7 million in restitution.

Mr Zuberi, 50, pleaded guilty to the obstruction of justice charge last year. This stems from a federal investigation into the source of $ 900,000 he donated through his company, Avenue Ventures, to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016.

A lawyer for Mr. Zuberi declined to comment on Friday. He acknowledged that his political donations were intended to gain access to politicians, civil servants and business leaders.

“To open doors, I have to donate,” he told The New York Times in 2019. “It’s just a reality.”

Mr. Zuberi had made large donations to Democrats, including committees supporting President Barack Obama, and then Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, before flipping sharply to Republicans after Mr. Trump’s victory. In Washington political circles, he stood out less for the scale of his donations than for his transactional nature.

Mr. Zuberi said in 2019 that his donation to Mr. Trump’s inaugural fund was at least in part intended to give him access to inaugural events where he hoped to talk business with investors and executives backing Trump. But he said his participation in the inaugural events yielded no results – and backfired after his company’s donation was cited in a summons.

Zuberi was also convicted on Thursday on a series of other charges to which he pleaded guilty in 2019 and for which he could have faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

Some of the charges relate to nearly $ 1 million in illegal campaign donations made from April 2012 to October 2016 as part of a scheme to gain access to U.S. politicians for foreign clients. Some of these donations were funded by foreign sources.

Others have been linked to his work in Washington lobbying for the government of Sri Lanka, whose image he was trying to repair in Washington amid concerns over the country’s treatment of Tamil minority groups.

Zuberi forged records filed with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in order to cover up his lobbying for Sri Lanka, the Justice Department said in a statement Thursday. This law, known as FARA, requires Americans to disclose detailed information about any lobbying or public relations work they do on behalf of foreign governments and political entities.

In addition, Mr. Zuberi failed to report and pay taxes on the $ 5.65 million he was paid for the Sri Lankan lobbying campaign, and embezzled most of the money “for the benefit of himself and his wife, ”said the press release from the Ministry of Justice.

“This phrase should deter others who seek to corrupt our political processes and compromise our institutions in exchange for currency,” John C. Demers, deputy attorney general for national security, said in the statement.

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Former FBI Lawyer Who Changed Email In Russia Case Sentenced To Probation

Former FBI lawyer who altered his email in Russia is sentenced to probation Judge rejected prosecutors’ request to impose jail time on Kevin Clinesmith, who admitted to treating an email used to help authorize eavesdropping on a former Trump campaign aide.

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Former scout chaplain sentenced to 40 years in prison for sexual abuse

A former Rhode Island Boy Scout chaplain was sentenced to 40 years in prison Thursday after arguing without question of sexually assaulting six young men, authorities said – the latest tally from a beleaguered national scout movement through sexual abuse. complaints.

Ex-chaplain James Glawson, 76, from Exeter, RI, volunteered for the Boy Scouts from 1980 to 2018 and served as an assistant Catholic chaplain at the Boy Scout camp in Hopkinton, RI, according to police of the State of Rhode Island.

Investigators said Mr. Glawson came to their attention in 2019 when staff at a Rhode Island group home reported he had inappropriate contact with an 18-year-old resident with a developmental disability.

The victim told police he had been sexually assaulted on several occasions over the years by Mr. Glawson, who authorities said later admitted to abusing the resident and several other young men during the 1980s while ‘he was a scout leader. It was not immediately clear whether the resident of the group home had any ties to the Boy Scouts.

Peter F. Neronha, the attorney general for Rhode Island, said in a statement Thursday that Mr. Glawson was in a position of responsibility and that parents had entrusted him with the welfare of their children.

“When someone abuses that trust and sexually assaults a child in their care, we know the consequences – they are serious and long lasting,” Neronha said.

At a Superior Court hearing in Wakefield, RI on Thursday, Mr. Glawson apologized for his “bad manners,” the Providence Journal reported.

“It makes me sick to think about what I have done,” Glawson said, according to the newspaper. “I pray every day that God will help me heal those I have hurt so badly and comfort them for the shame I have caused.”

In addition to a 40-year jail term, Mr. Glawson was sentenced to 20 years probation after pleading without challenge to 11 counts of first degree sexual assault.

Mr. Glawson was also previously affiliated with two Catholic parishes in Rhode Island, authorities said.

As Mr. Glawson was charged, Rhode Island State Police said the Boy Scouts of America had cooperated with the investigation. Last February, the organization, faced with a deluge of sexual abuse complaints that now exceed 82,000 cases, filed for bankruptcy.

In a statement Thursday night, the Boy Scouts of America said they had permanently banned Mr. Glawson in 2019.

“This individual’s behavior is reprehensible and goes against everything the Boy Scouts of America stand for,” said the Boy Scouts. “We care deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who has been injured during their time in Scouting.

The organization said it was carrying out criminal background checks on Scout leaders, as well as other screening measures. Individual situations of adults interacting with children have been banned, he said.

“We are outraged that there have been times when individuals have taken advantage of our programs to abuse innocent children,” the Boy Scouts said. “We believe the victims, we support them andwe encourage them to come forward.

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Pastor who advised two presidents is sentenced to 6 years for deceiving investors

In fact, the bonds, which were issued by the former Republic of China before the Chinese Communist Party came to power from Mao Zedong in 1949, were virtually worthless, prosecutors said. The current Chinese government does not recognize the bonds, and the United States Securities and Exchange Commission views them as worthless collectibles outside of the souvenir market, prosecutors said.

But investors were not told the true nature of the bonds, nor that any previous investor had ever achieved the promised returns, prosecutors said.

Many of the clients were elderly and retired, prosecutors said, and those who did not have cash readily available were encouraged to cash in other investments so that they could participate in the scheme, prosecutors said.

The victims received a “participation agreement” stating that if the sale of the bonds failed within a certain number of days, the funds invested would be returned, prosecutors said.

Investors have been instructed to wire money into various bank accounts owned or controlled by Mr. Caldwell. In total, in 2013 and 2014, around $ 3.5 million was “invested” in bond deals, prosecutors said.

Mr. Caldwell received about $ 900,000, prosecutors said, and used some of the money to pay off debts, including personal loans, mortgages and credit cards, prosecutors said.

When investors began to question why they had not received the promised returns, Mr. Caldwell and Mr. Smith offered an apology, defended the legitimacy of the transactions and promised investors that they would receive their returns, said prosecutors.

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The judgment of a woman sentenced to death calls into question her execution

A decision by a federal judge to delay the execution of the only woman on federal death row could push the new date into the early days of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s administration, who has said that he would work to end the federal government. Capital punishment.

The woman, Lisa Montgomery, was due to be executed on December 8, but that date was delayed after two of her lawyers tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after going to a federal prison in Texas to visit her in November.

If Ms Montgomery’s life were spared in the series of delays caused by the infection of her lawyers, it would be a rare reprieve for a prisoner of a virus that has swept through prisons, infecting inmates crammed into spaces shared.

But if the Justice Department appeals the ruling, a higher court would most likely overturn it. Since the Supreme Court paved the way for federal executions in June after a 17-year hiatus, judges have been largely unresponsive to calls for stays of federal inmates to be executed.

The Department of Justice had postponed his execution until January 12, but Judge Randolph D. Moss of the District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday ruled that the January execution date was illegally postponed due to an order reprieve, which had been issued due to the illnesses of his lawyers were still relevant.

Ms Montgomery, of Melvern, Kan., Was convicted in 2008 of killing Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then 23 and eight months pregnant, and cutting a baby off her abdomen.

She tried to pass Ms. Stinnett’s baby off as her own before she admitted to the crime. A jury found her guilty of kidnapping resulting in death in Missouri federal court.

Ms Montgomery’s lawyers said she suffered from a serious mental illness, inherited from both parents and made worse by the abuse she suffered as a child, including sex trafficking by her mother and gang rape by men.

Federal enforcement rules state that an inmate will be notified of his execution date at least 20 days in advance. However, when the postponed date is less than 20 days from the previous execution date, the inmate should only be notified “as soon as possible”.

The stay of Ms. Montgomery’s case prevented the government from executing her before December 31. How long the government will wait to execute it after this point remains unclear. Once Mr. Biden is sworn in on January 20, Ms. Montgomery’s chances of execution become increasingly unlikely.

Representatives for Mr Biden did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether he would intervene in Ms Montgomery’s case if her execution fell within his purview. A spokesperson for the president-elect told The Associated Press that Mr. Biden “opposes the death penalty now and in the future.”

If Ms. Montgomery is executed, it would be the first federal execution of a woman since 1953, when Bonnie Heady was killed in a gas chamber for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Kansas City, N. Missouri. the federal administration resumed federal executions in July for the first time since 2003.

It would be “legally questionable” to execute Ms Montgomery before Jan. 20, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.

But, due to the Trump administration’s legal strategy of forcing “the courts to decide without proper scrutiny,” Mr. Dunham said, “no one can guess what this administration will attempt to do now.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The logistical challenges of the executions could also push Ms Montgomery’s execution further into Mr Biden’s presidency. She is expected to be transported from Texas to the federal correctional complex in Terre Haute, Indonesia, to face the death penalty. The executions also required a crew of dozens of workers, which is why Ms Montgomery’s death was scheduled for the same week as that of two other death row inmates.

The coronavirus has also introduced new problems for federal executions. There has been an outbreak in the Terre Haute complex, where at least 14 of some 50 men on death row have tested positive. The Justice Department is facing a trial of inmates at the Federal Correctional Complex which alleges executions – which bring workers, witnesses, lawyers and media personnel to the center – could expose them to the virus.

Ms Montgomery has not tested positive for the coronavirus. The two inmates who are scheduled to be executed the same week as his January date – Corey Johnson and Dustin John Higgs – have tested positive for the virus. Their lawyers are seeking to delay their executions because of their infections.

Sandra Babcock, one of Ms Montgomery’s lawyers, called on President Trump for help, asking in a statement on Christmas Eve that he “show him mercy and commute his sentence to life imprisonment.”

Mr Trump announced a number of pardons and commutations this week, pardoning 41 people and commuting the sentences of eight others in just two days. On Tuesday, he granted clemency to two men who had pleaded guilty in the Special Council’s investigation into Russia; four former US servicemen who have been convicted of charges related to the murder of Iraqi civilians; and three former members of Congress.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump pardoned Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is also an adviser to the president, as well as two men – Paul Manafort and Roger J. Stone Jr. – who had refused to cooperate with the special council inquiry.

In light of the recent pardons bestowed on ‘war criminals and corrupt politicians,’ Mr Dunham said, ‘it would be a staggering statement if they chose to proceed with the execution of a critically ill and horribly ill-treated woman. “.

Marie Fazio and Hailey Fuchs contributed reporting.

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Minnesota frees Myon Burrell, man sentenced to life in prison after murder

Myon Burrell, 34, was released from state prison on Tuesday after the Minnesota Board of Pardons commuted his life sentence in a murder case that angered supporters of criminal justice reform and hampered the presidential campaign of Senator Amy Klobuchar.

An investigation by the Associated Press and U.S. public media in February revealed glaring flaws in the prosecution of an office headed by Ms. Klobuchar, then a Hennepin County lawyer. Mr Burrell was 16 when he was arrested in 2002 after an 11-year-old girl was shot in the heart by a stray bullet while doing her homework.

The council reduced Mr Burrell’s sentence to 20 years, with the remaining two years to be served on probation, according to the Associated Press. He always maintained his innocence.

One of Mr Burrell’s attorneys, Daniel Guerrero, said on Tuesday he plans to pursue avenues towards a full exoneration. He praised Mr Burrell’s release, but said his case highlighted larger loopholes in the criminal justice system.

“Myon is certainly not the only innocent person we have in our prison system here in this country,” Mr. Guerrero said. “Our jury system is good, but it’s definitely not foolproof.”

According to the Associated Press investigation, there was no hard evidence, such as DNA or fingerprints, that linked Mr. Burrell directly to the shooting, to which another man later confessed. Video evidence showed that the homicide detective in the case offered a man $ 500 to provide Mr. Burrell’s name.

The investigation also found that police failed to collect surveillance footage from a convenience store that Mr Burrell said could have proven his innocence. The store, Cup Foods, was the same one outside which George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers in May.

Mr Burrell requested confidentiality after his release on Tuesday, another of his lawyers said. He walked out of prison to the sound of drums, briefly raising his fist to a group of supporters who cheered him and crowded around him.

“I can’t imagine for a minute how it must have felt for him,” said attorney Perry Moriearty, who was with Mr. Burrell when he left the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater in Bayport, Minn. to come home to your family and live simply – it’s been a very long time.

While before the pardons commission, according to the Associated Press, Mr. Burrell spoke of his time in prison: “I started going in and extracting drugs from the poison. The trials and tribulations that I was going through, I tried to get something out of it.

Mr Burrell had twice been convicted of the murder of Tyesha Edwards, who was in sixth grade when she was shot while doing her homework and watching television at her family’s home in South Minneapolis. Gov. Tim Walz, who recommended switching Mr Burrell, told his family during Tuesday’s hearing that “there is nothing I can do to ease your pain, and it will not be improved,” according to the Associated Press.

“But we must act today to recognize that the law in this area has changed,” he told the family. “Justice is not served by imprisoning a child all his life for a horrible mistake made many years ago.”

Ms Edwards’ father and brother told The Associated Press that they oppose Mr Burrell’s release. The Hennepin County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment, and Ms. Klobuchar did not respond to a request for comment.

Ms Klobuchar, who took a harsh anti-crime message while trying to appeal to moderate voters in the Democratic presidential primary, has been criticized by civil rights advocates and black community leaders after the investigation Associated Press.

She was the Hennepin County attorney for eight years, including when Mr. Burrell was first convicted by the office in 2003. That conviction was later overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which said an inadmissible statement by Mr. Burrell was used at trial.

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Arizona man who conspired to threaten journalists sentenced to 16 months in prison

A 21-year-old Arizona man who pleaded guilty to helping a neo-Nazi group threaten and intimidate journalists was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison on Wednesday.

The man, Johnny Roman Garza of Queen Creek, Ariz., Was among a handful of people linked to a violent paramilitary neo-Nazi group, the Atomwaffen Division, who were arrested in February, prosecutors in Virginia and the United Kingdom said. Washington State.

Brian T. Moran, the US attorney for the Western District of Washington, said in a statement that Garza had not proposed the program but “enthusiastically embraced” it.

Mr Garza, who pleaded guilty in September to a conspiracy charge in the case, admitted that he researched home addresses for potential targets and that in January he put a threatening poster on the window of the room of a publisher of a Jewish publication in Arizona. . The poster showed a hooded skeleton holding a Molotov cocktail in front of a burning house, with the words “Your actions have consequences” and “Our patience has its limits,” according to court documents.

The poster also included personal information about the publisher, prosecutors said.

The case was handled in the Western District of Washington because an accused was there when he led the conspiracy, a prosecutor spokeswoman said.

Mr. Garza appeared via Zoom from Arizona on Wednesday on charges of being convicted by a judge at the Seattle Federal Courthouse. He also admitted that he tried in January to put up a similar poster at an apartment complex in Phoenix where a member of the Arizona Black Journalists Association lived, but that he did not could find a place to post it.

Others at Atomwaffen have targeted a broadcasting reporter in Seattle who had reported on Atomwaffen and two people associated with the Anti-Defamation League, officials said. The New York Times earlier reported that Kirstjen Nielsen, who at the time was Secretary of Homeland Security, was also among the targets.

Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement that the organization was “happy that Garza is being punished for his anti-Semitic and hateful threats,” but also said it came in the middle of a wave rising. of the violence of white supremacists.

Seth M. Apfel, an attorney for Mr. Garza, said in an interview Wednesday that his client, who will be on probation for three years upon his release from prison, was working to give up this life of hate.

Mr. Garza “has gone from those views” to “completely embracing the exact opposite point of view,” his lawyer said.

“The light bulb started to go out when he was taken into custody,” Apfel said.

Mr Garza, who will report to authorities on a date to be determined to begin his sentence, has already moved away from his former associates, Mr Apfel said. Mr. Garza has attended classes to learn more about black and Jewish culture and is keen to work with authorities and activists to prevent others from being drawn into hate groups, Mr. Apfel said.

“Certainly, in my opinion, his transformation has been very sincere,” Mr. Apfel said. “And I say this not only as a lawyer, but also as a Jewish man married to a black woman.

Mr. Garza is the first accused in the case to be convicted. Another defendant who pleaded guilty in September is expected to be sentenced in February; two more people who officials say lead the group, Kaleb Cole and Cameron Brandon Shea, are set to stand trial in March.

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Former Arizona official sentenced to over 6 years for adoption fraud

A former Arizona official was sentenced Tuesday to more than six years in federal prison for leading a multi-state adoption fraud scheme that prosecutors say attacked women in the Marshall Islands and to adoptive parents in the United States wishing to start a family. .

The official Paul D. Petersen, a Republican who was twice elected as a Maricopa County assessor, has arranged at least 70 illegal adoptions in Arkansas, Arizona and Utah, prosecutors said. In some of those cases, prosecutors said, he falsified residency information so he could enroll pregnant women in the South Pacific island nation for state health care coverage.

A 1983 pact banned citizens of the Marshall Islands from traveling to the United States for adoption. The pact allows Marshallese citizens to enter and work freely in the United States.

“He exploited a legal loophole and used it to run an intercountry adoption business outside of the necessary oversight of the United States or the Republic of the Marshall Islands,” said David Clay Fowlkes, the United States’ first deputy lawyer. western district of Arkansas. A declaration. “This unique case deserved the harsh sentence ordered by the court today.”

“During the scheme,” said Mr. Fowlkes, “the accused lied to judges in state courts, falsified records, encouraged others to lie during court proceedings and manipulated the birth mothers. for them to consent to adoptions that they did not fully understand.

On Tuesday, Mr. Petersen, 45, appeared via Zoom at a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, Ark., After pleading guilty to a federal trafficking charge. human beings in June.

Mr. Petersen, a resident of Mesa, Arizona, is awaiting conviction on state charges in Arizona and Utah, where he previously pleaded guilty to human trafficking and fraud.

His lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors in the Arkansas case had requested a 10-year sentence for Mr Petersen, whose attorneys said he helped create many loving families over the years as a lawyer for private adoption and had accepted responsibility for his actions.

Under the terms of his Arkansas plea deal, Mr. Petersen must also pay a fine of $ 100,000 and will be on probation for three years after his release from prison.

As part of the program, prosecutors said, Mr Petersen offered each of the pregnant women $ 10,000 to put their newborns up for adoption, siphoning money for housing and health care after arranging their trip of more than 5000 kilometers in the United States.

Then, after falsifying the residency records of some of the pregnant women to enroll them for state health care coverage, Mr Petersen demanded a fee of $ 35,000 from parents wishing to adopt, authorities say. from Arizona.

In October 2019, Mr. Petersen was charged in his home state of Arizona, as well as in Arkansas and Utah.

At the time, he had been an appraiser for Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and is the most populous county in Arizona. The assessor is responsible for property assessments and property tax policy. In 2016, Mr. Petersen received over one million votes in the Evaluator Race. He resigned from his post in January of this year.

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Petersen’s adoption website listed the average cost of an adoption from $ 30,000 to $ 40,000, which “covers the birth mother’s monthly expenses, prenatal medical costs and childbirth, assistants and office costs ”.

A co-defendant in the Arizona case pleaded guilty to fraud, theft and failure to file an income tax return in December 2019, the state attorney general’s office said.