A Newhall resident who’s a former immigration officer surrendered to authorities Wednesday, after a federal grand jury indicted him in a long-running immigration fraud scheme that was fueled by official corruption.
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Paul Lovingood, 71, of Newhall, is named in an indictment brought to federal court by the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section of the U.S. District Attorney’s Office.
The indictment against Lovingood alleges a conspiracy involving bribery and fraud against the United State government. The indictment also alleges seven counts of bribery, two counts of making false statements, three counts of misuse of government seals (USCIS approval stamps) and three counts of false stamps.
The conspiracy counts carry a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, and the bribery counts carry a statutory maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
If convicted of all counts in which he is charged, Lovingood would face a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
“The allegations in this case concern federal law enforcement officers selling their services and betraying their oaths to our nation so they could profit from a clandestine immigration fraud ring that allowed scores of aliens to improperly enter and reside in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr., in a statement Wednesday. “Immigration fraud subverts the orderly process of citizenship and compromises the security of the homeland.”
Lovingood was arraigned Wednesday afternoon in a federal court in Los Angeles.
The conspiracy was allegedly orchestrated by a Los Angeles attorney who paid bribes as high as $10,000 to officials with several agencies in the Department of Homeland Security to help secure immigration benefits for aliens he was representing, according to Thom Mrozek of the U.S Department of Justice.
The indictment specifically alleges that Lovingood added documents to, and removed documents from, immigration files related to an immigration attorney’s clients, according to federal documents.
Authorities have identified several dozen aliens who improperly received immigrations benefits, but that number is growing as the investigation continues.
In exchange for their official acts, immigration attorney Kwang Man “John” Lee allegedly paid the officials with cash and expensive gifts – including computers and television sets for Lovingood.
There were three others named in the indictment.
“Guarding against illegal or unethical behavior by those in positions of public trust is not an option – it is an obligation we have to the people we serve,” said Joe Jeronimo, Special Agent in Charge of ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility, West Region. “We will move aggressively to target those who corrupt the integrity of our nation’s immigration system, particularly when the actions involve individuals sworn to safeguard that process.”
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan Blanco, who works in the office’s Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section
An 18-count superseding indictment returned Tuesday outlines a wide-ranging bribery scheme in which attorney Lee– who was previously charged in a criminal complaint and is not named in Tuesday’s indictment – used illegal tactics to procure immigration benefits for clients.
Lee allegedly paid bribes to public officials to secure admission stamps and lawful permanent residency status for aliens who paid fees ranging from a few hundred dollars to well over $50,000. Lee paid bribes to government officials, with payments ranging from $50 to as much as $10,000 given to an officer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
“We will do everything possible to protect our system of government when it is threatened by public officials who are more concerned with private profit than upholding the law,” Birotte said.
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Source: Santa Clarita News