By Alexander Dworkowitz
A Great Neck man has been charged with ripping off Chinese immigrants out of his Flushing office after promising to secure them green cards in exchange for thousands of dollars, authorities said last week.
Peter Cheung, 49, was arrested in his third-floor office at 36-09 Main St. on March 25 and pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens two days later, authorities said. He was held on $100,000 bail, authorities said.
The criminal complaint against Cheung accuses him of defrauding and stealing from two Chinese immigrants over the last several years, although others have filed complaints with the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown since his arrest, a spokeswoman for DA said,
Cheung faces seven years in prison if convicted, the spokeswoman said. His attorney could not be reached for comment.
Cheung is the first person to be charged in what Flushing attorney Ming Hai believes to be a widespread scheme targeting Chinese immigrants in Queens.
In the fall, about 20 people contacted Hai, saying Flushing immigration agencies had ripped them off. The immigrants said the agencies, which advertised in Chinese-language newspapers, promised them green cards but instead took their money and left town, Hai said. Green cards establish a person as a permanent legal resident of the United States, allowing an immigrant to apply for citizenship.
Hai believes as many as 100 people may have been scammed by various immigration companies based in Flushing.
Two agencies, Guong Hua at 36-09 Main St. and Jin Quan at 39-15 Main St., closed down in the fall, Hai said. At the time, the attorney said he was unable to file a civil suit against the owners of the companies since he could not locate them.
But after the alleged scheme made headlines, the Queens district attorney began closely investigating the alleged scams, leading to Cheung's arrest.
According to the criminal complaint, in November 2000 Cheung, the owner of American Immigration Consultant Inc., told Angie Ng, a Chinese immigrant, that he knew someone in the Immigration and Naturalization Service who had two “open slots” for Chinese people and could secure her a green card for $35,000.
Ng never got her green card and told Cheung she would go to the police if she did not get her $35,000 back, the complaint said. Cheung returned $10,000 and several checks, but those checks bounced, leaving Ng still short $25,000, the complaint said.
Hai, who represents Ng, works in the same building as Guong Hua and Cheung's agency. In February, Hai discussed his client with Cheung, and Cheung “admitted to him that he had cheated Ms. Ng and that he would refund Ms. Ng's money,” the complaint said.
The money, however, never came through, according to the complaint.
Hai has also filed a civil suit against Cheung, asking for $75,000.
Ng, who lives in South Carolina, is married to a U.S. citizen, which legally entitles her to a green card. She would have obtained her green card by now if not for her troubles with Cheung, Hai said.
“This guy has made life miserable for Angie,” Hai said.
Cheung also scammed another Chinese woman, Ping Wu, the complaint said. Wu paid Cheung $10,000 for a green card, which she never received, the complaint said. In October, Wu came to Cheung's office, demanded her money back, and ended up getting into a fight with one of Cheung's employees, leaving injured and empty-handed from the office, according to the complaint.
On March 25, authorities seized files, employment applications, tax returns and bank statements among other documents, according to the complaint.
Since Cheung's arrest, the American Immigration Consultant has closed, an employee of the business said. The employee, who did not want to give his name, said his company was meeting with clients to “settle” with them.
Immigration agencies such as American Immigration Consultant are completely unregulated. In light of the recent publicity, state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) has reintroduced a bill sponsored by state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) to establish a system of regulations for the industry.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.