TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP)-A federal grand jury indicted a southern Idaho woman after prosecutors said she cheated Mexican immigrants out of thousands of dollars by pretending to be an immigration attorney who would help them file paperwork.
Celia Perez of Jerome was indicted last week on 12 counts of mail fraud in Boise's U.S. District Court, The Times-News reported Oct. 15. The U.S. attorney's office says Perez, 40, surrendered to authorities Oct. 11.
Federal prosecutors say that starting at the end of 2006, Perez bilked two families trying to earn visas or green cards out of more than $30,000 by claiming to be an immigration attorney who could help them. Perez has not yet entered a plea, and an arraignment date has not been set.
Prosecutors said Perez told the families that she handled "difficult" immigration cases and could "make the immigration process go faster."
After the families sent Perez money, prosecutors said she would tell them that she needed more information or more money to pay additional fees. The indictment alleges Perez never filed any documents with or paid any fees to the government.
Prosecutors are seeking the return of at least $30,665 taken from the two families.
The Idaho attorney general filed a civil complaint against Perez in 2010 involving similar allegations. Perez failed to appear at a hearing in that case and the state received a default judgment for $103,500, AG office spokeswoman Kriss Bivens Cloyd told The Associated Press.
Bivens Cloyd said Perez was accused of cheating six people out of $85,500 in the 2010 case. None of the money has been collected because state officials were unable to locate Perez, Bivens Cloyd said. Now that she has been indicted, the state is exploring its options in trying to collect the judgment, she said.