Georgia man indicted on charges of scheme to defraud

Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau announced today the indictment of a Georgia man for defrauding individuals by falsely holding himself out as an attorney and purporting to provide immigration legal services.

The defendant, WILMER RIVERA MELENDEZ, 61, has been indicted on charges of scheme to defraud, grand larceny, attempted grand larceny, and practicing or appearing as an attorney-at-law without being admitted and registered. The crimes charged in the indictment occurred between November 2008 and October 2009. The defendant is scheduled to be arraigned today in State Supreme Court, Part 1.

The investigation leading to today’s indictment revealed that MELENDEZ claimed to be an employee of W&R Immigration Services, purportedly a non-profit organization located in Covington, Georgia. MELENDEZ filed applications and petitions with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) on behalf of undocumented individuals.

The investigation further revealed that MELENDEZ required that his New York-based clients pay for his traveling expenses from Georgia to New York by wiring money to his account. MELENDEZ claimed to be an attorney, with approximately 20 years of experience working for immigration within the federal government. As a part of his representation, MELENDEZ required his clients to fill out and sign a Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Representative, which gave him the authority to represent them in court proceedings regarding immigration matters. MELENDEZ then promised that he could obtain a green card for them within two years by filing for Withholding of Removal, a status which gives a holder permission to remain in the U.S. until further notice. This promise is false because a person granted Withholding of Removal can never obtain a green card.

MELENDEZ explained that USCIS would schedule an interview to question the client about his/her claim. While the petition for Withholding of Removal is pending, he explained, the clients could receive a work permit after 150 days had passed since the filing of the withholding petition. In order to ensure that the 150 days elapsed, MELENDEZ rescheduled the interview numerous times. However, this rescheduling did not count towards the 150-day calculation because the petitioner, not the federal government, caused the delay. After the individuals failed to attend the interview a few times, their cases were sent to an immigration judge, and deportation hearings were scheduled. When individuals questioned MELENDEZ about their cases, he refused to take their telephone calls and/or changed his telephone number.

MELENDEZ is not a licensed attorney in New York or Georgia. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) confirmed that MELENDEZ is not an accredited representative authorized to represent clients before USCIS or the immigration courts. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration Customs Enforcement has confirmed that MELENDEZ has never been employed by DHS or the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

MELENDEZ perpetrated the aforementioned fraud on at least 14 victims in New York. USCIS confirmed that MELENDEZ was involved in filing other applications or the representation of other victims before USCIS. The investigation is continuing and anyone who sought services from MELENDEZ should contact the District Attorney’s Immigrant Affairs Program hotline at 212-335-3600.

MELENDEZ has been indicted on one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree and one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, class E felonies punishable by up to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison; one count of Attempted Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail; and six counts of Practicing or Appearing As An Attorney-At-Law Without Being Admitted and Registered, a Judiciary Law misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail.

Mr. Morgenthau thanked Attorney Sheldon Zelig; Paul Beiger, Fraud Detection & National Security Officer with the New York Asylum Office, within USCIS, Department of Homeland Security; Judy Hospedales, Supervisory Asylum Officer with the New York Asylum Office within USCIS, Department of Homeland Security; the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and the Anti-Fraud and Abuse Prevention Program of the Office of the General Counsel, Executive Office for Immigration Review within the U.S. Department of Justice.

Assistant District Attorney Benjamin Cheeks of the Special Prosecutions Bureau is handling the prosecution of this case under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Daysi Mejia, Attorney-in-Charge of the District Attorney’s Immigrant Affairs Program and Thomas Wornom, Chief of the Special Prosecutions Bureau. Detective Santiago Batista of the District Attorney's Investigations Bureau assisted in the investigation under the supervision of Investigator Stephen McCallion and Chief Investigator Joseph Pennisi.

Defendant Information:

WILMER RIVERA MELENDEZ, 10/28/1948
8180 Collier Road
Covington, Georgia

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