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.”