WASHINGTON, USA - The United States Department of Justice says a Missouri woman has pleaded guilty for her role in a scheme to defraud Caribbean and other nationals seeking immigration-related services.
It said Elizabeth Lindsey Meredith, 24, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, six counts of mail fraud and seven counts of wire fraud in connection with Immigration Forms and Publications (IFP), a Sedalia, Missouri company that sold immigration forms generally available at no charge from the government.
According to court documents, IFP sales representatives fraudulently told immigrants that the company was affiliated with the US government and that fees paid to IFP covered government processing charges.
Meredith faces up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to US$250,000, the US Justice Department said.
“Over a year ago, the Department of Justice announced its commitment to combating immigration service scams, which often prey upon individuals who are in this country legally and trying to abide by the rules,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West.
He said the guilty pleas represent an important step in the continued fight to protect vulnerable individuals against fraud.
Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’ Civil Division, Stuart Delery, said the agency is intolerant of those who exploit government services.
According to court documents, Meredith was a manager of IFP, which operated in 2009 and 2010.
In pleading guilty, the Justice Department said Meredith admitted that IFP representatives falsely told Caribbean and other immigrants that the company employed paralegals who would help customers correctly fill out immigration forms, that IFP handled excess call volume for US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), that fees paid to IFP included government processing fees, and that forms purchased through IFP would be processed more quickly than if consumers dealt directly with USCIS.
“Law-abiding immigrants sought help to complete government forms, but instead this company cheated hundreds of victims out of more than US$400,000 and provided little or no help at all,” said David M Ketchmark, Acting US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri.
“This defendant managed the day-to-day operations of the Sedalia office; with her guilty plea today, all of the conspirators now will be held accountable for their fraud and deceit,” he added.
Thomas Joseph Strawbridge, 49, and Thomas Barret Laurence, 30, previously pleaded guilty for their conduct in the same scheme, the Justice Department said.