New Arrivals Ripped Off by Their Countrymen

By David North on June 17, 2010

It is an unattractive old story, but it keeps happening.

Newly-arrived aliens, usually with little or no chance of getting green cards, are cheated by their countrymen who promise – for stiff fees – legal status.

Recently four such schemes have come to light as prosecutors have hauled the immigration schemers into court, in New York and Pennsylvania. Three of them involve Haitian applicants (and con artists with what sound like Haitian names) and will be described later in this blog.

The largest and most egregious of the cases, the one in Pennsylvania, was a truly massive conspiracy to subvert the asylum process according to a Department of Justice press release. There were more than 380 fraudulent cases filed, and the amount of money secured from the applicants exceeded $3 million. Most of the people involved, both the fraudsters and their victims, came from the former USSR.

While the three Haitian cases were detected quickly, some elements of the USSR cases started five years before a federal grand jury handed down an indictment in the summer of 2008. And, despite a guilty plea on the part of the principal, David Lynn (a/k/a/ "David Waisman"), in the case, it took another two years before he was sentenced to prison earlier this month.

Lynn's technique was to work through associates, all with names relating to the former USSR, to provide the aliens with a wide variety of stories that he thought would appeal to the asylum offices of USCIS.

At least one non-Gypsy claimed that he had suffered discrimination in his homeland because he was a Gypsy, non-Baptists and non-Jehovah's Witnesses claimed that they suffered because of their religious faith, and at least one straight male was coached to contend that he was gay, and had been beaten in the homeland for that reason.

In another case, a Jewish immigrant from Israel played the role of a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine, saying that he had been abused because of his religion in the latter country.

Lynn pretended to be a lawyer, but apparently never appeared at any of the interviews; further, he saw to it that the fees ($8,000 for single people, $10,000-$12,000 for families) were paid through his colleagues, and rarely, if ever, directly to him. And apparently the marketing of the scheme was always done verbally, and within the ethnic communities. Lynn, in short, was always off-stage, playing the role of the puppet-master.

He and his colleagues were good at what they did. When his home and offices were raided by federal agents they found $1.7 million in various assets, mostly in bank books, including two 10-oz. gold bars, now worth about $12,000 each.

But while he was successful at getting clients and raising money, his clients rarely scored a victory.

According to immigration lawyer Jason Dzubrow, who wrote about the case, "What's amazing to me is that a guy who lost the large majority of his cases and charged $8,000 per person – far more than most legitimate lawyers – seemed to maintain a booming business. It's a sad testimony to the gullibility and desperation of the clients, some of whom may have lost out on bona fide claims."

One of Lynn's five co-conspirators played a role that underlines a continuing weakness of USCIS as it handles asylum claims. Anatoly Zagranichny, according to the indictment, was "fluent in Eastern European languages, coached immigrant clients regarding, among other things, the Baptist and the Jehovah's Witness religions to assist them in presenting false testimony at their asylum interviews and acted as an interpreter during the presentation of their false testimony at asylum interviews." (Emphasis added.)

The problem is that USCIS does not routinely provide interpreters, and asks non-English speaking applicants to bring their own. This can produce a situation where the interpreter, such as Zagranichny, can provide a cogent if phony story to the asylum officer, no matter what the applicant is really saying.

A dozen years ago I did a study of the asylum process for INS, and I repeatedly ran into asylum officers complaining about this problem, over which they had no control.

One officer, a Caucasian, told me about an interview he had had. He spoke Mandarin; but this talent was unknown to the applicant and his interpreter. The officer heard both the applicant telling one tale in Mandarin, and the interpreter changing it to a completely different, and more compelling one in English. The officer denied the claim and banned the interpreter from the office.

I asked the officer if he was – given his linguistic talents – assigned all the cases from China, and he said no, that a random rotation of cases was in force. That struck me as mindless but it was the case.

USCIS, and INS before it, has decided that they will put up with this danger, as opposed to spending more money hiring interpreters of their own.

The full indictment, and many other court papers on the Lynn case, are available to subscribers of PACER, the federal judicial system's electronic records system. The indictment is Document 1 in case 2:08-cr-00430-RBS; PACER charges 8 cents a page.

The Haitian cases are less well documented; all we have is a news story in the New York Post. The three Haitian entities apparently charged large fees for little if any work in connection with the Temporary Protected Status (i.e., amnesty) program created by USCIS for Haitian illegals in the U.S. at the time of the earthquake.

The suits were filed by the Andrew Cuomo, New York's Attorney General. Since the TPS program did not begin until this January, Cuomo's operatives moved swiftly.

The end of the TPS filing period comes on July 20. The program provides legal status until July 20, 2011; in the past, however, TPS status has been extended again and again to its recipients, a sort of rolling temporary legal status that eventually begins to look like a de facto permanent legal status.