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Orange County

3 Men Are Charged in Green Card Probe

September 24, 2004|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged two Orange men and another from Granada Hills with completing bogus green card applications on behalf of hundreds of undocumented immigrants seeking legal residency in the U.S.

According to Assistant U.S. Atty. Richard Y. Lee, immigrants were advised to falsely claim in documents for U.S. residency that they were married to U.S. citizens. Most immigrants who marry U.S. citizens are automatically granted residency.

While the applications were pending, the immigrants were issued temporary work documents that enabled them to apply for Social Security cards, driver's licenses and other government documents.

According to Lee, immigrants in Orange and Los Angeles counties each paid $5,550 to middlemen who gathered clients on behalf of the three operators. The applicants included immigrants with surnames from Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Latin America.

"I think some of the clients thought they were dealing with a legitimate agency trying to help them," Lee said. "Others just went along with it knowing that they might not get legal residency, but because they [at least] got an employment authorization card and with that card they could apply for a driver's license."

Charged Thursday were Sonny Edward Tabula, 65, and Ernest Joseph Busto, 53, of Orange, and Eduardo Palacios, 40, of Granada Hills. They have not been arrested and will be summoned to appear at their Nov. 1 arraignment in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Lee said.

Each has been charged with five counts of making false statements to the agency previously known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Each could face 50 years in federal prison, 15 years of supervised release and a $1.25-million fine.

The three submitted several hundred bogus applications and had at least 1,000 more to submit, Lee said. Investigators said they found more than $500,000 cash in the suspects' homes.

The applications submitted by Tabula, Busto and Palacios contained some accurate information, Lee said, but also stated fraudulently that applicants were married to U.S. citizens. Applications submitted to the federal government included bogus marriage certificates.

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