February 15, 2018 / 11:20 PM / 9 months ago

Seattle ICE lawyer admits stealing immigrants' identities for cash

(Reuters) - The former chief counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Seattle pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to a scheme to steal the identities of immigrants for financial gain.

Raphael A. Sanchez, 44, will be sentenced on May 11 in U.S. District Court in Seattle on charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, the Department of Justice said Thursday.

Prosecutors said Sanchez, who had responsibility over immigration removal proceedings in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, devised a scheme to defraud seven aliens in various stages of immigration removal proceedings.

He used their information and names to open credit cards and get personal loans of more than $190,000. In some cases he created utility statements to establish proof of residence, and also claimed three aliens as relative dependents on his tax returns for 2014 through 2016.

“Raphael Sanchez betrayed that solemn responsibility and abused his official position to prey upon aliens for his own personal gain,” Acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Cronan said in a statement Thursday.

Sanchez resigned from the agency, according to a statement Thursday from his lawyer, Cassandra Stamm.

“Mr. Sanchez looks forward to fully repaying all those affected by his crimes. In short, Mr. Sanchez does not offer excuses for his acts; rather, he simply provides his sincere and immense regret,” she said.

The offenses allegedly took place between October 2013 and October 2017, and included an instance of forwarding a copy of part of a Chinese passport and other information from his government email address, according to court documents.

As chief counsel, Sanchez was involved in a $2.25 million government settlement in 2015 with Broetje Orchards, a Washington state company that admitted to employing unauthorized workers after being told by ICE they did not have permission to work in the United States.

Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by James Dalgleish

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