LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Whittier paralegal faces sentencing today for defrauding dozens of immigration law firm clients by depositing their payments for filing fees or legal services into her personal bank accounts.
Tanya Garcia, 42, pleaded guilty in November last year to one count of wire fraud and faces up to 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
From October 2014 to October 2018, Garcia worked at multiple immigration law firms in Los Angeles and Riverside counties. Those firms assisted clients with matters such as obtaining asylum, relief from deportation, U.S. residency and citizenship, and work permits.
Garcia 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 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or for immigration-related legal services provided by the law firms, according to papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.
As part of her scheme, 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, according to her plea agreement.
Garcia admitted she deposited at least 144 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, she provided false explanations for the delays or lack of response from USCIS, court papers show.
She also admitted that she sometimes refused to permit the clients to speak to a licensed attorney at the law firms, and to defrauding the clients and the immigration law firms out of $199,077, according to federal prosecutors.
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