Bogus immigration attorney in Florida indicted for submitting fraudulent asylum claims

A grand jury in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, has indicted Elvis Harold Reyes on 25 counts for an immigration fraud scheme.

According to the indictment, Reyes portrayed himself as a licensed and qualified immigration attorney, when in fact he was not licensed to practice law in the State of Florida or elsewhere. He also claimed to be a pastor, accountant, immigration expert, and former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) official, not to mention a former agent with both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

Reyes owned and operated EHR Ministries, which he is accused of using to falsely represent that he was a licensed attorney. Through that corporation, he purported to assist individuals and their families with immigration-related legal work, which included filing official U.S. government forms and paperwork, in order to obtain immigration benefits.

The immigration fraud scheme

As specified in the indictment, following are the key features of the scheme:

  • Reyes gave false, inaccurate, and incomplete legal and immigration advice to clients, in order to induce them to retain his services.
  • He claimed to be assisting clients with obtaining Florida driver's licenses and temporary work authorizations by preparing and filing immigration applications and petitions with USCIS on their behalf, many of which contained fraudulent and materially false statements.
  • He prepared and filed on clients' behalf Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal forms (Form I-589) which contained false biographical information, false residential addresses, fabricated preparer names, and false narratives. The false statements included:

    Fabricated representations about threats, persecutions, and fear of returning to the applicants' native countries due to drug-cartel related crime, political corruption, gang-related violence, other organized crime, and government-sponsored torture.

    Fabricated personal stories about being victimized by human trafficking, kidnapping, robberies, murder, torture, and police corruption.

    Fabricated responses explaining why applications were filed more than one year after the alien last arrived in the United States.

  • Reyes would not inform clients that he was making materially false representations on their behalf in their asylum applications.
  • He would not inform clients that he was filing for asylum or Convention Against Torture (CAT) protections, or, alternatively, would not fully explain to clients what asylum and CAT protections were.
  • He would not inform clients that filing a Form I-589 asylum application could lead to deportation. That can happen if the asylum claim is rejected. The alien has now formally informed authorities of his illegal presence in the country. If the application is rejected, he becomes a subject for deportation.
  • Reyes would ratify Form I-589 applications by either having clients sign incomplete forms or by having clients sign blank pieces of paper, so that he could add the signatures on the forms at a later time. In fact, an asylum applicant has to sign the completed application under penalty of perjury. If a preparer assists the applicant, the preparer has to certify that he read the completed application to the applicant in his native language.
  • Reyes would provide USCIS Form I-797C Notice of Action to clients, for presentment to the Florida Division of Motorists's Services (FDMS), in order to obtain Florida driver's licenses. Form I-797C might only be used by USCIS to provide notification that an application was received, but the FDMS will consider it acceptable documentation for issuance of a driver's license.

A lengthy criminal record

A June 2019 Tampa Bar Times report on Elvis Harold Reyes contributes these significant pieces of information:

  • Some of Reyes' former clients received deportation orders as a result of his “services”.
  • An immigration lawyer observes this kind of fraud is rampant in immigrant communities.
  • Reyes has a long criminal record in Florida, which include felony convictions for grand theft, use of worthless checks, and aggravated assault. His most recent prison stint ended in 2008.

How did people wind up using his bogus immigration legal service, when he had no legitimate credentials and no positive professional reputation, if not for a hope that he could just make things work out, regardless of whether his service was legitimate or not? That would at least explain how such fraudulent services become rampant in these communities.

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