A former chief counsel for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Seattle was on Thursday sentenced to four years in prison for stealing the identities of people facing deportation and using them to run up bills totaling US$190,000.
Raphael Sanchez resigned when he was charged in the four-year scheme in February. He had overseen immigration proceedings in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington since 2011 as the agency’s top lawyer in the region.
“Sanchez was entrusted with significant authority to represent the United States in crucial immigration proceedings that deeply shaped the lives of many,” attorneys Luke Cass and Jessica Harvey, of the US Department of Justice’s public integrity section, wrote in a sentencing memo to the court.
“Sanchez abandoned the principles he swore to uphold and used his authority merely as a vehicle for personal profit,” they said.
As part of a deal in which Sanchez pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, prosecutors and Sanchez’s attorney, Cassandra Stamm, agreed to recommend a four-year prison term.
Stamm blamed the crimes on her client’s self-destructive tendencies, including dangerously abusing sleeping pills, which she suggested stem from being brought up by an alcoholic, violent father.
In an interview with court officials prior to his sentencing, 44-year-old Sanchez, who was due to make US$162,000 this year, said he struggled with money troubles, depression, fatigue and a failed relationship before launching into his scheme.
“It became a perfect storm that did not allow me to see the hurtfulness and wrongfulness of my actions,” he said. “I pretended I needed no one and thought material things would bring me happiness, even if temporarily. I created an intricate, beautiful, yet soul-less house of cards that suddenly came crashing down.”
Sanchez’s scheme ran from late 2013 to late last year.
He took the personal information of at least seven people who had been or could be deported from immigration files and forged identification documents, such as social security cards and driver’s licenses, in their names.
Sometimes, he used a picture of a murder victim that had appeared in a newspaper as an identification photo.
He used the forged identity documents to obtain lines of credit, used credit-monitoring services to determine which of his victims had the best credit, and listed three victims as dependents on his income tax returns.
The victims’ status as deportable — or in some cases having already left the country — made it less likely they would discover the fraud, prosecutors said.
Sanchez is the second lawyer in ICE’s Seattle office to run into legal trouble in the past few years.
Jonathan Love pleaded guilty in 2016 to a charge that he forged documents in an effort to deprive an immigrant of the legal permanent resident status to which he was entitled.
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