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.