Man gets 41 months for cheating immigrants
A Seattle man has been sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for his role in stealing money from Polynesian immigrants, including many in Hawaii, by saying he could get them expedited immigration benefits.
Toma Lelea, 40, pretended to be a government worker and told foreign nationals that he had special influence over the U.S. immigration process, officials with the Department of Homeland Security said yesterday. He was sentenced yesterday in federal court in Seattle.
Despite never having worked for the U.S. government, Lelea would display badges or clothing indicating that he worked for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI or U.S. Marshals Service. He even carried a 9 mm Glock handgun, officials said.
Lelea accepted more than $19,000 in fees from 20 victims who thought they were receiving legitimate assistance. He often put the victims in more difficult situations by failing to produce paperwork in time for important deadlines, immigration officials added.
Lelea was originally indicted in Hawaii in 2006. Other charges in Washington, for receiving Social Security benefits by pretending to be poor and disabled, were added last year.
He pleaded guilty in August to 21 criminal counts, including wire and mail fraud and theft of public money. Lelea will also be subject to three years of supervised release and must pay more than $100,000 in restitution, officials said.
"Unfortunately, a ruse like this undermines the confidence people have in their government and in law enforcement," said Wayne Wills, special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office of investigations in Hawaii. The office "will continue to aggressively pursue those who prey upon and exploit vulnerable members of the immigrant community in the interest of lining their own pockets," Wills added.