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March 17, 2010

South Florida man who posed as immigration official indicted in immigration benefit fraud scheme

MIAMI - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents arrested a South Florida man on March 15 for his alleged involvement in an immigration benefit fraud scheme where he is alleged to have impersonated a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employee in an attempt to obtain money from illegal immigrants by falsely promising them immigration benefits to remain in the United States.

Parasharm Maharaj, aka Paris Maharaj, 66, of Sunrise, Fla., was indicted on March 9 in a six-count indictment charging him with mail fraud, presenting false immigration applications, encouraging illegal aliens to remain in the United States, and impersonation of a federal employee.

"The filing of false applications to obtain immigration benefits for individuals that are not authorized to be present in the United States puts the security of our communities at risk," said Anthony V. Mangione, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami. "Immigration benefits like these could be exploited by dangerous criminals to obscure their identities and cover their tracks. ICE will continue to aggressively pursue and criminally charge individuals who have impersonated federal officers and would exploit immigrant communities for their own self interests."

In Aug. 2005, ICE special agents in Fort Lauderdale began an investigation based on allegations that Parasharm Maharaj was purporting to be a U.S. immigration official and involved in immigration benefit fraud.

Maharaj was allegedly defrauding illegal immigrants residing in South Florida by obtaining money from them with promises to obtain green cards and work permits.

According to the indictment, from Aug. 2004 through Sept. 2005, Parasharm Maharaj engaged in a scheme to defraud in which he charged illegal immigrants approximately $4,000 each to file applications for immigration benefits on their behalf.

Maharaj submitted fraudulent employment authorization (Form I-765) and fraudulent applications for temporary permanent residence (Form I-687) on behalf of aliens, allegedly knowing the aliens were not entitled to receive the benefits sought. During the execution of his scheme to defraud, he falsely purported to be a DHS employee. The indictment alleges that Parasharm Maharaj received more than $60,000 from the illegal immigrants he defrauded.

United States Attorney Jeffrey H. Sloman said, "Immigration fraud not only hurts the victims who were defrauded of their hard-earned money, but also poses serious risks to our national security. The U.S. Attorney's Office is committed to preserving the integrity of our immigration system and helping to make our borders safe."

If convicted, Maharaj faces a maximum term of 20 years in prison on each mail fraud charge, 10 years on each charge of presenting a false immigration application, 10 years on each charge of encouraging illegal aliens to remain in the United States, and three years in prison on the impersonating a federal employee charge. He made his initial appearance in federal court in Miami on March 16.

Anyone with information that someone may be falsely representing to be an immigration officer or other DHS employee, can report that information or suspicion to the ICE tipline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423).

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Keene.