Some of the worst scams perpetrated in the United States often seek to
defraud and victimize unsuspecting victims who are immigrants in the country.
Just this week a notorious scheme was published when the two lead criminals
were each sentenced to three years in federal prison.
Mr. Hernandez de Arteaga and Ms. Maria de Lourdes Montano-Vicencio, who
were both living in Houston, Texas were the managers of a restaurant called
Los Compadres, located in LaVernia, Texas. Both of them were present in
the United States illegally at the time they enacted their scheme. Mr.
Hernandez de Arteaga plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and
five additional counts of wire fraud last December in 2014. Previously
in February of 2013, Ms. Montano-Vicencio also plead guilty to four counts
of wire fraud.
They victimized innocent immigrants who were present in the country without
documentation and were told that they could legalize their status through
their assistance. The first step in their plan was to have the victims
pay their fees in full. Following that there would be no immigration help,
rather they were blackmailed and told that they would call the United
States Immigration offices if they dared to report what had happened.
These victims were caught because they had lost their money and then couldn’t
do anything about it with the fear of being discovered and possibly deported.
The bulk of their illegal activity took place between October 2010 and
December 2012, according to the court records. Both Hernandez de Arteaga
and Montano-Vicencio promised their victims that they had “inside”
help at various immigration agencies who would be able to provide work
authorization and Social Security cards to their clients. They told their
victims that they would be able to secure these benefits in only six short
months. Desperate to find a way to stabilize their status in the country,
more than 60 individuals got caught in their scheme, paying over $100,000
to them. The money was transferred by Western Union from Hernandez de
Arteaga in LaVernia to Ms. Montano-Vicencio in Houston. Not one person
ever received the immigration benefit that was promised to them.
When a victim dared to complain or became angry about being cheated, they
were threatened by Hernandez de Arteaga and Montano-Vicencio with being
reported to immigration officials. The victims feared their own removal
or deportation, according to police records. These victims were selected
because of their vulnerability and illegal status in the United States.
All too often, the victims are some of the hardest working individuals
in the county, being paid sub-standard wages for difficult physical labor.
The perpetrators counted on the victims’ inability to come forward
to authorities and report their illegal behavior due to their own fear
of being exposed to immigration officials. They exploited these particular
individuals, believing they would be able to remain unscathed.
In this particular case, justice was served when both Hernandez de Arteaga
and Montano-Vicencio were fined $144,063 each in addition to their prison
terms as restitution to be paid to their victims. Unfortunately, this
is just one of many scams that prey upon the undocumented individuals
in this country. Until a Comprehensive Immigration Reform is established,
basic human rights are being violated on a daily basis in our country.