A man who allegedly posed as an immigration attorney and two female accomplices were named in a federal indictment charging them with operating an immigration fraud scheme.
The trio created phony employment visas and other bogus documents for foreign nationals who were seeking a way to remain in the United States legally, according to officials.
Alexander Smirnoff, who also went by the name “Alex Scott,” 48, and his “legal assistants” – Ekaterina Vladimirovna Zamurueva, 28, and Anna Kirillovna Solodovnikova, 29 – were arrested late last week by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s or ICE Homeland Security Investigations at the residence they share in Corona, California, according to authorities.
The three defendants were charged in a 16-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on August 16.
To date, investigators have located and interviewed about a dozen individuals who sought immigration services from the defendants, but officials believe there may be more than 100 still unidentified, unwitting victims, according to officials.
If they are convicted of the charges in the indictment, each defendant is facing up to 189 years in federal prison and a minimum sentence of two years in federal prison, officials said.
The indictment, which was unsealed following the defendants’ arrests, charges them with conspiracy, visa fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and identification fraud.
The trio was arraigned on the indictment Friday in federal court.
At the arraignment, U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen L. Stevenson ordered Smirnoff released on a $50,000 appearance bond subject to electronic monitoring and restriction to his residence and both Zamurueva and Soldovnikova detained without bail.
Trial is scheduled for Dec. 13.
According to court documents, Smirnoff and the two women told prospective clients they operated a consulting firm called ABC Flex, which purported to offer “legal support” to foreign nationals wanting to obtain immigration benefits that would enable them to stay in the U.S.
For fees as high as $8,000, the services offered by the defendants allegedly included creating phony employment visas, which they told clients were genuine.
Investigators determined that the recipients of those “visas,” many of whom originally came to the U.S. as students, did not realize the documentation was fake until HSI special agents contacted them for overstaying their original expired student visas.
In one instance, a foreign national ABC Flex client did not become aware her documentation was forged until she was denied entry upon returning to the U.S. from a trip to Nepal to teach English.
She told investigators she frantically contacted the defendants, who said they would remedy the situation, but then stopped responding to her inquiries.
“The indictment in this case charges the defendants with victimizing both the United States and dozens of immigrants who thought they were properly obtaining authorization to remain in the United States legally,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The crimes charged in the indictment undermine our immigration system and harm individual victims both by stealing their hard-earned money and by placing them in very serious immigration situations.”
The indictment alleges that as part of the scheme the defendants furnished their foreign national clients with forged letters purportedly issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and I-94 Arrival/Departure Records that falsely appeared to give the recipients permission to remain in the U.S. legally.
The documents bore the Department of Homeland Security seal and appeared to be on official USCIS letterhead.
Additionally, the indictment alleges the defendants provided some of their clients with what they purported were valid Social Security numbers, when in fact the numbers either belonged to someone else or were invalid.
“As this case makes clear, HSI will move aggressively to target those who hold themselves out as legitimate immigration attorneys and greedily exploit their clients’ trust,” said Edward Owens, acting special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles.
Adding,“in this instance, as is often the case, most of the victims didn’t realize their trust was misplaced until it was too late.”
The defendants are presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty..
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