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Tucson woman sentenced to 18 months, fined $90k for defrauding immigrants with pending cases

Feds investigated after woman stole identity of Az immigration attorney, claimed to work with ICE

A Tucson woman was sentenced to 18 months in prison Tuesday for fraud after she pretended to be both an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and an immigration attorney, bilking her victims out of thousands by claiming she could help them with their immigration cases. 

Elvira Contreras, 38, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in September, agreeing that from 2014 to 2018, she "knowingly, willfully, and with the intend to defraud" promised to obtain immigration documents for at least six people. This includes one woman who was told by Contreras that she could get a special visa for victims of crime, known as a U-visa, that would help her come back to the United States after she was deported to Mexico. 

Agents with ICE's Office of Personal Responsibility, the agency's internal watchdog, began investigating the case after they were told by a victim that a women had said that she was worked for ICE, that she was also an immigration attorney, and could get immigration documents for a fee, said Mike Torres, the acting resident agent in charge of OPR's Tucson office. 

One women, identified only as L.R.M. in court records, hoped to obtain a U-visa as well as U.S. citizenship and a contractor's license for herself and her husband, identified only as F.C.M, ultimately giving Contreras $24,000 in three payments over a two year period beginning in 2015.

According to court documents, L.R.M. knew Contreras as a "tarot card reader" who sometimes did "blessings and cleansings of residences" and paid her thousands to help her with those documents, as well as another $11,000 after Contreras promised her that she could get $100,000 in federal, and $70,000 in state tax refunds, as well as social security cards. Contreras also presented to the couple another person, who pretended to be Doralina Luna, a local immigration attorney. 

Contreras continued to use Luna's identity to make her pitch, including taking more than $27,000 in eight payments over a nearly two-week period in July 2017 from A.F.G.R., a Guatemalan man. A.F.G.R. had money sent to him from his family, and paid Contreras hoping to receive a driver's license and immigration documents, which he never received. 

Torres said that as Contreras continued to bilk her clients, investigators were trying to understand whether she was an official in ICE, or rogue immigration attorney, but they struggled because she was good at disappearing until 2018 when a woman was deported to Mexico, which was a break in the case. 

The victim, identified as B.L.M. in court records, began talking to Contreras over the phone and was told that she could receive a U-visa for $1,500. "Feeling desperate, and wanting to get back into the U.S.," after she was deported, B.L.M. sent to the money, and "nothing happened," said Torres. 

B.L.M. continued to send money to Contreras over two weeks in February 2018, at one point enlisting her former boss for help, who sent her another $1,500 to help. While she continued to pump B.L.M. for money, Contreras told her that she was Doralina Luna, the immigration attorney. 

Contreras continued to ask for money, communicating with B.L.M. over Whatsapp, and ultimately took nearly than $2,000 from the woman, until an immigration advocate in Nogales, Sonora went to Luna's office, and discovered that B.L.M. was not working with Luna, but someone else. 

Officials with OPR met with B.L.M. and used her to connect Contreras with an undercover agent.

From February 2018 to March 2018, Contreras demanded thousands from the undercover agent, using Moneygrams through Walmart stores in Tucson, and promising that she could as Luna fix the undercover agent's immigration case, renewing an "immigration permit" and obtaining a driver's license because she "had access to consulates and courts," according to court documents. On March 28, 2018, the undercover agent met with Contreras at Park Place Mall and gave her $2,000 in cash to help with the case. 

"The UC Agent never received any U.S. immigration documents or identification documents," court records said. 

Torres said that Contreras sealed her pitch because she was a former client of Luna, and she used that knowledge to "solidify her credibility with other victims." He said that Contreras tailored her approach, pretending to be an ICE employee, and an immigration attorney, and went so far as to tell the undercover agent she had three law degrees, Torres said.  

"When you start asking questions, and question her credibility, she disappears," he said, adding that Contreras sometimes made threats, telling people that she "knew everything" about them and that she would get them deported. "I'm untouchable," Contreras told one person, Torres said. 

"We worked really well on getting this done," Torres said, citing OPR's work with agents from ICE's Homeland Security Investigations. "The minute we found we had an opportunity with the victim in Mexico, we worked really hard." Torres said. "And, that was our window—without that, I think she would be still at it," he said. 

Torres said that OPR is continuing a "nationwide initiative" to nail down these kinds of cases. "This is very high on our priorities," he said. "People are trying to to do this the legal way, and they end up depleting their life savings after scraping up whatever they can."

Ultimately, Contreras stole about $90,935 from at least five people, including the funds she took from ICE via the undercover agent. 

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U.S. District Judge Jennifer Zipps oversaw the case, and ordered Contreras to pay $89,935 in restitution. 

People who feel they've been hurt in similar scams can contact ICE through their website, ice.gov or call 1-866-DHS-2ICE, said Torres. 

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HSI and CBP agents during an investigation of Nogales-area trucking companies.