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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Phony Lawyer Bilked Immigrants, DA Says

MANHATTAN (CN) - More than a dozen undocumented Guyanese immigrants face deportation after hiring a Georgia con artist who pretended to be a lawyer, the district attorney says. Wilmer Rivera Melendez even offered to marry two immigrants to help them gain legal status - and Melendez is a bigamist himself - prosecutors said.

When his scheme began to collapse, Melendez ducked clients' calls and changed his phone number. Melendez, 61, was convicted of bigamy in Georgia six years ago, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said in a statement.

According to the District Attorney's Office:

Melendez told his victims he was an immigration lawyer with 20 years of experience, and claimed to work for W&R Immigration Services, a purported nonprofit based in Covington, Ga. His New York-based clients paid his traveling expenses to trek up north and handle their cases. Melendez had them sign a notice of entry, which empowered him to represent them in court proceedings.

He promised he could get them green cards within 2 years by filing for "Withholding of Removal." But Morgenthau said a person granted withholding of removal cannot get a green card.

Immigration judges scheduled deportation hearings for at least 14 of Melendez's clients. Morgenthau said illegal immigrants who are victims of violent crime can receive temporary visas, but victims of fraud cannot.

If convicted of larceny, Melendez faces up to 4 years in prison. He also is charged with six counts of practicing law without a license, each count punishable by up to 1 year in prison.

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