Tuesday, 27 October 2009

US man sentenced to prison in immigration fraud case

Source: Seattle Times

By Mike Carter

A self-proclaimed immigration expert who advised his clients to falsely claim to be gay to win asylum in the U.S. was sentenced this morning to 18 months in prison by a federal judge in Seattle.

Steven Mahoney, who operated Mahoney and Associates in Kent for nearly nine years, pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. Mahoney, 41, admitted that he filed as many as 99 false immigration applications, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Mahoney's estranged wife, Helena, received a six-month prison sentence.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour said the sentences should send a message to the community "that this type of behavior will not be tolerated."

According to the indictment in the case, Mahoney told immigrant clients to falsely state they were homosexual on immigration documents and that they feared persecution or even death if they returned to their own countries. Likewise, he advised others to claim discrimination over religious beliefs.

He was paid up to $4,000 for each false application he filed, according to the indictment.

In one instance, involving an individual identified in the indictment as A.K., Mahoney is alleged to have advised him to say on immigration applications that he was gay and that the militia in his country had attempted to rape his wife because of his sexual orientation, according to the indictment. Helena Mahoney allegedly helped the man obtain "documents about the gay community to assist A.K. in preparing for his asylum interview," the indictment alleges.

Another immigrant, identified as G.V., reportedly submitted documents to the immigration officials claiming that he was afraid he would be maimed if he returned to his homeland "when in truth ... G.V. was not afraid of such maiming," according to the indictment.

It's not clear whether any of the immigrants mentioned in the indictment was granted asylum status and allowed to stay in the U.S.

In seeking prison time, federal prosecutors said persecution of gays and Jews in Eastern Europe is real.

"By advising immigrants to falsely claim that they were gay or Jewish, [the Mahoneys] diminished the chances of those who genuinely seek asylum for those reasons," prosecutions said in a news release.

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