3 accused in scheme to defraud immigrants of $6 million

(David Maung/ EPA) (David Maung / EPA)

(David Maung/ EPA) (David Maung / EPA)

Originally published by La Times 

Sarah Parvini

Federal authorities have arrested two California men and a Mexican national in connection with a $6-million scheme to defraud victims seeking immigrationstatus in the United States.

Two of the defendants, Hardev Panesar, of El Cajon, and Rafael Hastie, of Tijuana, had posed as officers of the Department of Homeland Security for at least three years, the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego said Wednesday. Prosecutors said the pair promised they could obtain immigration status for people “in exchange for exorbitant fees.”

Gurdev Singh, 56, of Bakersfield, was also charged with assisting in the scheme.

Panesar, 69, was charged with structuring domestic financial institutions. Both Panesar and Hastie, 47, were charged with false personation of an officer or employee of the United States. All three defendants were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

In addition to posing as federal agents, Panesar and Hastie also claimed they had the power to stop deportation proceedings, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday. They were able to convince people that they were agents because they showed fake agency credentials when they met, prosecutors said.

The men defrauded more than 150 victims out of about $6 million by collecting fees under the guise that they would be able to provide immigration documents, according to the indictment. Prosecutors allege the defendants collected thousands of dollars from each victim. They solicited people across the country — including in California and Indiana — and in Mexico, according to prosecutors.

Panesar and Hastie also provided immigration applications to victims and took fingerprints that they said were for immigration forms, authorities said. They often demanded more money to speed up the process or guarantee the immigration documents by a certain date, prosecutors said.

Authorities said they are still seeking other possible victims.

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