A local woman has been sentenced to ten years in prison after she stole more than $100,000 from illegal immigrants across the state, immigration attorneys in New Jersey report. Maritza Chavez, from Elizabeth, NJ, spent several years posing as an attorney, and offering her “services” to immigrants who needed paperwork, documentation, or other legal representation to change their undocumented status.
Chavez was the founder and operator of Worldwide Foundation to Rescue the Immigrant, a group that advertised its ability to help illegal immigrants in New Jersey obtain citizenship. The Foundation was in operation for 6 years, moving from location to location in Elizabeth several times throughout that period. Chavez’s client base consisted mainly of persons from Central America and South America, many of whom had been in the United States for several years.
In 2011, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office began an investigation into both Chavez and the Foundation after one of her clients complained, despite the reported threats Chavez made against him if he did so. The ensuing investigation led law enforcement officials to charge Chavez with 26 counts of theft by deception.
Before her sentencing, more than 20 of Chavez’s former clients testified about her methods, and how she lied to them, stole their money, and gave them false hope. The clients described how they sought out Chavez for help in becoming documented citizens of the United States, and how she helped them fill out documents, talked them through the process, and charged them thousands of dollars in paperwork fees and legal costs. After a client paid her, Chavez would purposely make mistakes in the applications she submitted so that they would be returned, with a full refund. She would alert clients that their paperwork had been sent back due to errors, but would keep the refunded money for herself.
Once Chavez had obtained her client’s money, she dodged phone calls, canceled appointments, and made various threats to keep her foundation out of trouble. If clients considered complaining that she had not delivered on her promise, she told them she would have themselves, or their children, deported. All told, she stole more than $100,000 from her clients through deception and intimidation.
A Superior Court judge sentenced Chavez to ten years in prison. Ann Rubin, the Union County Assistant Prosecutor, said, in speaking of her victims, that Chavez “lied over and over again to these people,” labeling the woman’s actions as one of the “more despicable string[s] of crimes in the area of immigration” in recent years. Chavez not only stole her victim’s hard-earned funds, that most likely had been saved for years for such an opportunity, but she crushed their hopes, and made their position in the United States more perilous, as they remained illegal, undocumented residents.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a New Jersey law firm, our immigration attorneys represent immigrants who are trying to obtain citizenship, or who have been deceived by a fraudulent lawyer or representative promising to help them. If you are having trouble in these issues, contact an HCK attorney for help today.