SAN DIEGO –The former vice president of operations for two airline mechanic staffing companies pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to charges he made false statements as part of a scheme to enable dozens of the companies’ Mexican mechanics obtain legal residency in the U.S.
Eleno Quinteros Jr., 45, of Chula Vista, admitted he falsely certified he had received no payments from the mechanics, when in fact he had illegally demanded and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars of fees from approximately 85 of them.
The case is the result of a multi-agency probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
According to the plea agreement, Quinteros collected more than $560,000 from employees, even though employers are prohibited by law from demanding payment for their fees—including attorneys’ fees—in connection with such applications. Some of that money was paid to attorneys assisting with the applications. Quinteros pocketed the rest.
Staff at Quinteros’s companies performed heavy maintenance on aircraft at a variety of locations nationwide. Quinteros was responsible for recruiting Mexican airline mechanics to work in the U.S., and for assisting recruits with obtaining employment-based visas.
“Legal permanent residency is not for sale,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson. “This office is dedicated to fighting immigration fraud and prosecuting those who hawk lawful immigration status for their own personal financial gain.”
According to the indictment, Quinteros first assisted recruits with obtaining work visas to come to the United States. He then agreed to help at least 85 of them pursue legal permanent residency in exchange for substantial fees. Quinteros directed many of the mechanics to pay the money to his wife’s bank account or provide him with blank money orders so he could conceal the source of the illegal funds.
“Immigration benefit fraud is a serious crime, and those who corrupt the integrity of our nation’s legal immigration system must understand there are serious consequences for those actions,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge of HSI Los Angeles. “Not only do schemes like this potentially rob deserving immigrants of benefits they rightfully deserve, they also create a security vulnerability that could be exploited by criminals and others who pose a danger to our community. As the lead agency for the Los Angeles Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, HSI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to aggressively target those who conspire to manipulate and exploit our nation's legal immigration system for their own personal financial gain.”
Quinteros pleaded guilty to one count of making a false claim in support of an immigration application. He admitted in his plea, however, that the underlying scheme involved more than 25 immigration documents.
“The Diplomatic Security Service is committed to protecting the integrity of H-2B visas and all U.S. visas and travel documents that assist U.S. companies to legally employ foreign workers,” said Michael Bishop, special agent in charge of the DSS Los Angeles Field Office. “This case is the result of the partnership among federal law enforcement agencies and DSS’ global network of special agents working together to interdict visa and passport crimes and stop criminals from reaping illegal income by exploiting U.S. visas, passports, and foreign workers.”
“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has zero tolerance for those who try to fraudulently misuse our country’s lawful immigration system,” said Susan Curda, district director for USCIS in Los Angeles. “We are proud of our role in uncovering this scheme and bringing the perpetrator to justice.”
Quinteros’ sentencing is set for Nov. 6 before Judge Michael M. Anello.
Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.gov)