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          LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles County paralegal pleaded guilty today to defrauding more than 100 immigration law firm clients in Southern California by depositing their payments for immigration-related application filing fees or legal services into her personal bank accounts.

          Tanya Garcia, 41, of Whittier, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.

          According to her plea agreement, from October 2014 to October 2018, Garcia worked at multiple immigration law firms in Los Angeles and Riverside counties. The law firms assisted clients with matters such as obtaining asylum, relief from deportation, U.S. residency and citizenship, and work permits.

          Garcia admitted she met with the law firms’ clients and collected payments from them in the form of money orders or checks, representing that the payments would be used for application filing fees with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or for immigration-related legal services provided by the law firms.

          As part of her scheme to defraud, Garcia sometimes instructed clients to leave the “pay to” line of money orders or checks blank and at other times she informed the clients that she would complete the money orders or checks for them. Garcia generally would then write her own name in the “pay to” line of the money orders or checks. Other times, Garcia crossed out “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” from the “pay to” line of money orders and wrote in her own name. Garcia admitted she deposited the clients’ money orders and checks into her personal bank accounts and used the funds to pay off personal expenses including credit card payments, clothing, and food.

          In many cases, when the immigration law firms’ clients realized they were not receiving legal services or their immigration-related applications were not being processed by USCIS after providing payment to Garcia, Garcia provided false explanations for the delays or lack of response from USCIS. She also admitted that sometimes she refused to permit the clients to speak to a licensed attorney at the law firms.

          In total, Garcia admitted to defrauding at least 144 victim clients. She also admitted to defrauding the clients and the immigration law firms out of approximately $199,077.

          United States District Judge George H. Wu has scheduled a February 25, 2021 sentencing hearing, at which time Garcia will face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

          This matter was investigated by United States Secret Service, the Inglewood Police Department, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

          This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Brian R. Faerstein of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section, and Patrick Castañeda of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section.

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