By STACY ANN JONES
ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 28, 2010)Robert Fred Mejia, 29, of Germantown, wore a shirt and hat displaying the letters "ICE."
He carried what appeared to be a gun, pepper spray and wore a bullet proof vest.
Monday, Mejia pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court of Maryland to impersonating an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer after authorities said he accepted between $400,000 and $1 million to complete immigration services for up to 250 people, according to an ICE news release.
"It's relatively uncommon for us to find a case where someone's impersonating a federal agent," said Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. "We have prosecuted quite a few immigration fraud cases where lawyers or paralegals have been engaged in schemes to defraud people who are seeking immigration benefits in the United States."
According to the plea agreement, Mejia and a conspirator arranged for more than 50 people to come to their office in Gaithersburg and pay them for immigration services they never actually provided. Some of the victims paid them more than $5,000 to have documents filled out and their fingerprints taken.
Mejia faces up to five years in prison for conspiracy and up to 10 years for transporting money obtained through fraud between states, and for being a felon in possession of ammunition, according to immigration officials. His sentencing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Jan. 20.
Between now and his sentencing, the Maryland probation office will work to summarize Mejia's criminal history and talk to victims, taking statements from those who want to be heard, said Rosenstein.
Montgomery County Police Department officers arrested Mejia in April after following a tip that led to a two-month investigation and revealed that he and two conspirators accepted more than $97,000 from five people in exchange for citizenship, according to a news release from the department.
Police said a woman working with Mejia posed as a medical doctor and would introduce patients interested in obtaining their citizenship to Mejia, who posed as an immigration agent named "Jim."
Montgomery County Police said he dressed in grey pants, had on military-style boots and wore a gun in a leg holster. According to them, Mejia told one person to be patient while they waited for their citizenship papers and threatened them with deportation if they mentioned the transaction to anyone.
No paperwork was ever filed and Mejia does not and never has worked for any government agency, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Montgomery County Police alerted the agency about the scam and asked other clients who thought they had been ripped off to contact them. The number of potential victims of the immigration fraud jumped from five to between 50 and 250, according to immigration officials.
Mejia also pleaded guilty to charges of theft and conspiracy in Montgomery County. Charles Lazar, his attorney, said Tuesday afternoon that the sentencing hearing for his criminal case in Montgomery County's circuit court is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 1.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.