NEW YORK – A 51-year-old attorney has been indicted for defrauding at least 30 victims, many of them immigrants from the Caribbean, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance, Jr, said.
Vance said Owolabi Salis is charged with multiple counts of grand larceny, attempted grand larceny, scheming to defraud, and falsifying business records, Vance said.
“The immigrants in this case wanted to do the right thing by hiring a licensed attorney to guide them and their families through various legal processes. Instead of providing them with honest representation and advice, the defendant took advantage of their trust and stole from them,” he added.
James T. Hayes Jr., the special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations, said committing a scheme to defraud immigrants is a “serious matter made all the more disturbing when it is committed by a licensed officer of the court whose job is to assist them.”
“Lawyers and other service professionals who profit through fraud will not be tolerated, and HSI will aggressively investigate anyone seeking to exploit and compromise our nation’s immigration system,” he added.
United States Customs and Immigration Services New York District director, Phyllis Coven, said her department “places a high priority on combating immigration service scams.”
“USCIS will continue to work with the District Attorney’s office and other partners to educate the community on how to avoid immigration scams and to empower them to report those who take advantage of others,” she said.
The indictment alleges that the defendant falsely told his immigrant clients that they qualified for lawful permanent residence (green cards) and other immigration benefits, when they, in fact, did not.
It said that Salis charged each victim more than $4,500 for the fraudulent services.
According to court documents, Salis allegedly obtained work permits, which are automatically issued on a temporary basis while an underlying adjustment of status petition is pending, for his clients and misrepresented to them the facts surrounding the manner in which the cards were acquired.
“The defendant did not tell the victims that these work permits were temporary and would be terminated once the fraudulent underlying adjustment of status petition was denied,” according to the court documents.