By Alex Robinson
Two Queens paralegals were sentenced last week for their part in an immigration fraud scheme, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan said.
Song Luo, 35, of Ridgewood, and Yong Zhang, 50, of Flushing, were each sentenced to three months in prison for conspiring to commit immigration fraud along with a third defendant from Brooklyn, Zeyuan Wang, 33.
The trio worked as paralegals and translators at a Manhattan law firm, where they helped Chinese immigrants file fraudulent asylum applications and coached them how to successfully lie during their asylum interviews in exchange for payment, according to the indictment filed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
“As part of the immigration fraud scheme, Song Luo, Zeyuan Wang and Yong Zhang aided others in exploiting this country’s asylum laws by coaching and assisting them to lie on their applications,” Bharara said. “The sentences imposed on the defendants today ensure that they will be punished for their crimes.”
Between 2009 and 2010, Kari Kari Law Office, the law firm that the defendants worked for submitted more than 429 asylum applications, the indictment said.
The law firm’s employees would first screen potential applicants to make sure there was not anything in their past that would be easily discovered and could disqualify them from receiving asylum, the indictment said. They would also screen for the applicant’s ability to pay them, according to the indictment.
Asylum seekers are required to prove they suffer persecution in their native country. The defendants would therefore make up stories of persecution for their clients, which usually included tales of forced abortions in China or persecution for religious or political beliefs, the indictment said.
The defendants would then serve as translators in the applicants’ interviews, translating the client’s answers in a favorable way that would be consistent with the fabricated story, the indictment said.
In addition to their prison terms, Luo, Wang and Zhang were also ordered to pay $1,000 fines.
Their arrest was part of a three-year investigation, which resulted in the arrest of 30 people, who were charged in nine separate but overlapping indictments.
A Flushing deacon, Liying Lin, who was arrested in the investigation, was convicted in early March of coaching asylum seekers how to lie on their applications in exchange for donations to her church, the Full Gospel Global Mission Church in Flushing, at 42-60 Colden St., Suite 1A.
Lin, scheduled to be sentenced June 2, faces a maximum of five years in prison on a conspiracy count and up to 10 years on each immigration fraud count.
So far, 25 of the defendants arrested in the investigation have been convicted, Bharara’s office said.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.