Thursday, 8 January 2009

2 charged in Seattle with gay immigration fraud

A federal grand jury has charged two people in an alleged immigration fraud conspiracy, saying they advised straight immigrants to claim homosexuality - and potential persecution in their home countries - when they applied for political asylum.

Steven Mahoney, 41, and his estranged wife, Helen, 38, both naturalized U.S. citizens from Russia, were arrested Tuesday and pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court.

Prosecutors say Steve Mahoney ran Mahoney and Associates in Kent, and held himself out as an expert in immigration affairs. They say he made money by advising immigrants on how to stay in the U.S.

According to an indictment unsealed Tuesday, from 2003 to 2005 Steven Mahoney advised two immigrants to falsely claim that they were gay and feared persecution if they returned to their home country. In two other cases dating to 1998, he is accused of urging clients to claim they feared being maimed or tortured, though the indictment does not say if they too falsely said they were gay.

His wife's only alleged involvement was to provide a client - identified in charging papers as AK - with documents about homosexuality in preparing for an asylum interview in 2005, when she knew AK wasn't gay.

"Steven Mahoney advised and directed AK to state, on AK's asylum application, that the militia in AK's home country attempted to rape AK's wife because AK was gay, when in truth and fact, as known by Steven Mahoney, such act was not committed against AK's wife," the indictment said.

Both defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, which carries up to five years in prison. Steven Mahoney was charged additionally with three counts of immigration fraud, which carries a maximum 10-year penalty.

The immigrants seeking asylum were identified only by their initials in the indictment, and their home countries were not identified at all. It isn't clear whether any remain in the U.S.

Barry Flegenheimer, a lawyer appointed Tuesday to represent Helen Mahoney, said he had not had time to fully review the case. He said his client lives in suburban Auburn, cares for her invalid mother, and works out of her home as a seamstress.

Steven Mahoney's court-appointed attorney did not take questions following Tuesday's arraignment.



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