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3 Florida Brothers Guilty of Marriage and Immigration Fraud

A federal jury found three Jacksonville brothers guilty of marriage fraud charges Thursday, February 7, 2013. The guilty verdicts resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Federal Air Marshal Service, the FBI, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Mowafak “Mike” Shahla, 43, Antoun “Tony” Chahla, 42, and Fadi Chahla, 40, were found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to enter into marriages for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws, making false statements to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and unlawfully attempting to procure naturalization and citizenship.

According to testimony and evidence presented at trial, the brothers are Syrian citizens who recruited three U.S. citizens – two sisters and their sister-in-law – to enter into fraudulent marriages. The men entered into the marriages to become legal permanent residents, and then, citizens of the United States.

Shahla, Antoun Chahla and Fadi Chahla entered into the fraudulent marriages in 1999, 2002 and 2005, respectively. They made cash payments to the women for participating in the fraudulent marriages. Some of those payments were made on a monthly basis. During part of the conspiracy, payments totaling $3,000 were made to one of the women in exchange for her traveling to Syria on two occasions. The first trip to Syria was to become engaged to Fadi Chahla, and the second trip was to enter into a fraudulent marriage with him.

Shahla, Antoun Chahla and Fadi Chahla each made false statements in their applications for legal immigration status and citizenship. They also lied to immigration officers when they were interviewed about their fraudulent marriages. Prior to the interviews with the immigration officer, the couples met to discuss the details of their purported marriages and rehearse the stories they would tell the immigration officer.

As a result of their fraudulent actions, Shahla, Antoun Chahla and Fadi Chahla became legal permanent residents of the United States, but the conspiracy was discovered by law enforcement authorities before their citizenship applications were processed. They are now subject to deportation based on their convictions.

The three women involved in the fraudulent marriages previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. They agreed to cooperate with the investigation and were each sentenced to two years of probation.

Each brother faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison for the conspiracy charge and up to 10 years in federal prison for each of the other offenses. The sentencing hearings have not been scheduled.

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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Woman Sentenced to 9 Years in Prison for Sex Trafficking

A former Sacramento woman was sentenced Wednesday, November 28, 2012, to nine years in federal prison on charges stemming from a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the FBI that linked her to a scheme to sex traffic teenage girls.

Helen Jean Singh (née Kearney), 22, pleaded guilty earlier in 2012 to participating in a sex trafficking conspiracy involving the prostitution of teenage females. During the sentencing on Wednesday, November 28, 2012, Singh accepted responsibility for her actions.

A federal grand jury indicted Singh and her husband, Mahendar “Mike” Singh, on the sex trafficking conspiracy charge in December 2011. According to the indictment, the pair recruited teenage girls by promising money, drugs and a “family-like environment.” The couple maintained control over their victims by providing drugs, using physical force and threats of physical force, and fostering a climate of fear. The Singh’s used the Internet to advertise their prostitution enterprise, which spanned from SacramentoCounty to multiple Bay Area counties.

“Few crimes strike at our community the way sex trafficking does,” U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said. “By sexually exploiting children and young adults for financial gain, sex traffickers have shown that greed has no bounds. My office will continue to lead efforts by law enforcement to fight the menace that is sex trafficking.”

The Singhs were arrested in August 2011 after the South San Francisco Police Department responded to a motel near the San FranciscoAirport and found Mahendar Singh with three teenage girls. The affidavit alleges the defendants used an Internet website to advertise their victims and employed cell phones and text-messaging to make arrangements with customers.

“While no prison sentence can ever compensate for the physical and emotional toll experienced by trafficking victims, this lengthy prison term should serve as a sobering warning about the consequences facing those who engage in this reprehensible practice,” said Clark Settles, special agent in charge ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Francisco. “Human traffickers prey on the powerless and the vulnerable. ICE Homeland Security Investigations and its federal law enforcement partners are committed to protecting those who cannot protect themselves.”

“The FBI will continue to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to relentlessly pursue and bring to justice sex traffickers who exploit and victimize juveniles,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Gavin of FBI San Francisco. “We will also work with our community partners to help those who are victimized get the assistance they need.”

In addition to HSI and the FBI, the other agencies involved in the case included the South San Francisco Police Department; the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office; the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit of the Criminal Section, Civil Rights Division; U.S. Department of Justice; and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice.

The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton. Judge Hamilton also sentenced Helen Singh, who was and will remain in custody, to a five-year period of supervised release following her prison term and ordered her to forfeit property and make restitution of $45,000 to one of the victims. Mahendar Singh, who also pleaded guilty previously, received the same sentence April 18.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Huang prosecuted the case with the assistance of legal assistant Vanessa Vargas.

Anyone who suspects instances of human trafficking is encouraged to call the HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423) or the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888. Anonymous calls are welcome.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Florida Man Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking

A Tampa man pleaded guilty Friday, July 13, 2012, to conspiracy to engage in the sex trafficking of a minor, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the FBI, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and the Clearwater Police Department.

According to court documents, Mario Laguna-Guerrero, 27, began recruiting “Jane Doe” to perform commercial sex acts in exchange for money in Hillsborough County sometime in 2008. He transported his victim to various locations, including migrant farm worker camps, for the purpose of having her engage in prostitution. At these locations, Laguna conspired with other individuals for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts with Jane Doe.

Jane Doe, who has an IQ of 58, was less than 18 years old when these acts occurred. Evidence at court showed that she and Laguna were engaged in a relationship with each other and, as a result, Laguna knew how old she was.

Laguna faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison.

This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.

Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678

 
 

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A Parent’s Worst Nightmare: Steps to Take If Your Child is Abducted, Part II

  • If you suspect your child has been taken out of the country, call NCMEC toll-free at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) and the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues toll-free at 1-888-407-4747 or by dialing directly at 202-736-9090 for advice about what to do. Find out if you have a remedy under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Convention). If you do, consider filing an application under the Hague Convention for your child’s return. If you do not have a passport, apply for one in the event you have to travel outside of the United States to recover your child.
  • If your child is in the process of being abducted internationally by a family member, contact the Office of Children’s Issues without delay toll-free at 1-888-407-4747, or by dialing directly at 202-736-9090. Also call NCMEC toll-free at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) and the FBI. Contact information for the FBI is available in your local telephone book and at http://www.fbi.gov.
  • If your child has been taken out of this country, or is in the process of being taken out of the country, report the abduction to your local FBI office. Ask to speak to the FBI’s Crimes Against Children Coordinator. The FBI has jurisdiction to investigate violations of the federal International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA).
  • If an international abduction is in progress, urge law enforcement to immediately  contact the U.S. National Central Bureau (USNCB)-INTERPOL for help in intercepting the      abductor. USNCB-INTERPOL does not respond to requests directly from parents. Law-enforcement agencies may contact USNCB-INTERPOL directly or through the INTERPOL State Liaison Office. Law-enforcement agencies in the United States may contact USNCB-INTERPOL directly through Nlets, The International Justice and Public Safety Network, at DCINTER00. Parents concerned about an abduction-in-progress should also immediately contact NCMEC; OCI; transportation carriers the abductor may use such as airlines, train and bus companies; and local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials at airports and other transportation facilities the abductor may use. Put them on notice of the imminent abduction and request help in preventing your child’s removal from the country. Provide a photograph of your child and suspected abductor if available. Please remember abductors may use remote or distant transportation facilities instead of those closest to the abduction site.
  • Contact your missing-child clearinghouse and any local nonprofit, missing children organization (NPO) for whatever assistance they may provide. Referrals to other NPOs are available from the Association of Missing and Exploited Childrens’ Organizations Inc. (AMECO) by calling toll-free at 1-877-263-2620, dialing directly at 703-838-8379, or visiting http://www.amecoinc.org.
 
 

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A Parent’s Worst Nightmare: Steps to Take if Your Child is Abducted, Part I

  • Once you are sure your child has been abducted, immediately call or go to your local law-enforcement agency and file a missing-person report. Complete a “Missing-Person      Report for an Abducted Child,” and bring it with you when going to your local law-enforcement agency.
  • Ask law enforcement to enter information about your child into the FBI’s NCIC. Federal law requires law enforcement to enter each missing-child case into NCIC within two hours of report receipt. Law enforcement will decide if the circumstances of a child’s disappearance meet the protocol for activation of an America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert and/or other community notification.
  • Report your child missing to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) by calling toll-free at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678). Visit NCMEC’s website at http://www.missingkids.com.
  • Verify law enforcement has made the NCIC entry. If you cannot get this information from your local law-enforcement agency, call NCMEC toll-free at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) and ask them to check NCIC to see if your child is listed. NCMEC can confirm NCIC entries but is not authorized to make them.
  • If law enforcement does not enter information about your child into NCIC, your missing-child clearinghouse may be able to help by contacting law enforcement about your case. Contact NCMEC for additional information. You can also ask your local FBI office to enter information about your child into NCIC. The Missing Children Act authorizes the FBI to make such entries. Contact information for the FBI is available in your local telephone book and at http://www.fbi.gov.
 
 

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Parental/Family Abductions: Helpful Terms and Legal Glossary, Part II

felony – a serious crime usually punishable by imprisonment for at least one year. A less serious crime is a misdemeanor.

 

Hague Convention – The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

 

ICARA – International Child Abduction Remedies Act.

 

INTERPOL – International Criminal Police Organization, the world’s largest international police organization with 186 member countries including the United States. INTERPOL facilitates cross-border police cooperation. INTERPOL color-coded notices of Red, Blue, and Yellow may be issued in international, parental-kidnapping cases.

 

INTERPOL Blue Notice – seeks to collect additional information about a person’s identity or activities in relation to a crime.

 

INTERPOL Red Notice – seeks the arrest or provisional arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition.

 

INTERPOL Yellow Notice – seeks to locate missing persons, often minors.

 

interjurisdictional – between two jurisdictions including between two states or two territories or between a state and a territory.

 

IPKCA – International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act.

 

joint custodian – a parent who has been awarded joint custody, sometimes called shared custody, by a court. A joint custodian may have joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or both.

 

jurisdiction – legal authority of a court to make child-custody determinations.

 

left-behind parent – the parent from whom a child has been wrongfully taken, kept, or concealed. Also called searching parent and victim parent.

 

missing child – federal law defines this term to mean any individual younger than 18 years of age whose whereabouts are unknown to such individual’s legal custodian, but note that federal law requires entry of information about missing children younger than 21 into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center database. Definitions of “missing child” vary among states and territories.

 

missing-child clearinghouse – an agency of a state or territory that maintains records of missing children and, in some cases, assists local law-enforcement agencies in locating and recovering missing children.

 

modify – change. As a general rule the person seeking to modify a custody order must show a substantial change in circumstances since the custody determination was issued and that the modification would be in the subject child’s best interest. A parent may petition a court to modify an existing custody determination, for instance, to include prevention measures such as supervised visitation and bonds.

 

NCCUSL – National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. This is also known as the Uniform Law Commission. Representatives from all 50 states and the U.S. territories participate in this organization, which drafts uniform laws on various issues. NCCUSL has produced the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, and Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act.

 

NCIC – the National Crime Information Center database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

 

NCIC-MPF – the Missing Person File within the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center database.

 

noncustodial parent – a parent who has not been awarded custodial rights by a court. A noncustodial parent may be awarded visitation rights, sometimes called access rights or parenting time, by a court.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Bridgeport Attorneys Counsel Family Divided By Deportation, Speak Out Against Federal Program Targeting Illegal Immigrants

M.C. Law Group immigration attorneys Alex Meyerovich and Amy Morilla Miller met recently with the Molina family of Stamford, which has been experiencing firsthand the painful effects of being separated from a loved one by the barriers of immigration law enforcement.

With the introduction of the federal immigration regulation program Secure Communities — that was recently put into effect statewide in Connecticut — there may be more families sharing the Molinas’ pain.

Secure Communities unites the resources of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and local law enforcement in order to more effectively identify, detain, and remove criminal and/or illegal aliens. The program was launched in 2008 and was implemented statewide in Connecticut earlier this year. The program is scheduled to be in effect nationwide by 2013.

Under the Secure Communities program, any set of fingerprints taken by local law enforcement will automatically be sent first to the FBI for a criminal record check, and next to ICE for an immigration status check. If the database checks reveal a match to a criminal record and/or an illegal or “otherwise removable” immigration status, the individual will be immediately detained and subject to deportation proceedings.

According to the program’s records, since October 2011 alone, Secure Communities has removed over 110,000 criminal aliens, including 39,500 removals of criminal aliens convicted for aggravated felony abuses such as murder, rape, and child sex abuse.

Despite the program’s success in detaining and removing serious criminal alien offenders, it conversely has the ability to remove aliens with no criminal record whatsoever. Attorney Alex Meyerovich, who opposes the program, argues that the ability for local law enforcement to detain illegal immigrants for minor offenses, which can result in their deportation, represents an overzealous and unnecessary extension of ICE’s power. Meyerovich and other critics of the program point to this and more potentially negative side effects of the program as major flaws of Secure Communities.

“On the surface, Secure Communities sounds like a very reasonable program. But what it means in reality is that every time an alien comes in contact with the police, they will have an increased fear of deportation,” said Meyerovich. “This fear means there will be a decreased incentive to talk to the police, which means crime — and more specifically, domestic abuse situations and traffic accidents — is less likely to be reported by immigrant communities.”

In addition to underreported crime, Meyerovich argues that the uniform deportation of non-criminal aliens — often with established lives, businesses, and families in the U.S. — is another detrimental side effect of Secure Communities, and one that has the potential to rip many families apart.

“It’s completely absurd,” said Meyerovich. “An alien can live here for years, pay American taxes, work in or start an American business, and have American spouses and children, but with Secure Communities, one encounter with local law enforcement can potentially mean a non-negotiable ticket back home.”

The Molina family knows the pain of a family member being deported all too well. Meyerovich and fellow M.C. Law Group attorney Amy Morilla Miller represent the family in their attempts to return Sandra Payes-Chacon — wife of U.S. citizen Rony Molina, and mother to U.S. citizen children Evelin, 19, Alex, 11, and Ronald, 8 — to her home in Connecticut.

Payes-Chacon was detained and deported to her native country Guatemala in 2010, and is now barred from entering the U.S.for ten years. All of the family’s legal attempts to rectify her situation — including a request for humanitarian parole sent to the Department of Homeland Security — have been denied.

In her absence, Rony Molina and his children must continue to endure the heartbreaking reality of being cut off from their wife and mother for ten years. Payes-Chacon herself is suffering from severe depression due to the separation.

“The children really need the presence of their mother,” said attorney Morilla Miller of the Molinas’ situation. “This family is being divided unnecessarily.”

Although Payes-Chacon’s deportation did not occur because of Secure Communities, critics caution that as the program continues to expand, cases like the Molina family’s will become more frequent. What troubles Morilla Miller about this prospect is the unsympathetic attitude that she increasingly sees towards these unnecessary deportations.

“Some people might want to dismiss what this family is going through, and say that the husband and children should just pick up and move to Guatemala, but that’s ridiculous,” said Morilla Miller. “Her husband is a U.S. citizen. Her children are U.S. citizens, born and raised here like any American child. Guatemala is not only a foreign country to them, but one with poor employment and educational prospects, limited access to medical resources, and one of the worst crime rates. What American would want to raise their family in an environment like that?”

As Secure Communities gets closer to its goal of nationwide implementation by 2013, debates over immigration reform and the rights of immigrants are sure to intensify. The rights of illegal immigrants is a hotly contested issue among politicians and American citizens alike, with many arguing for stricter immigration regulation and harsher consequences for those who enter the country illegally.

However, Morilla Miller fervently opposes such measures, and sees the current debate over illegal immigration as blatantly ignoring America’s storied history of welcoming immigrants.

“America was founded on the scores of immigrants who came to this country in pursuit of a better life, ” Morilla Miller said. “At some point, virtually every American citizen’s ancestors were immigrants. So what’s the point of fighting for the rights of immigrants to stay in this country? You. If someone had turned away your immigrant ancestors, then you wouldn’t be here either.”

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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