Two sentenced to prison in San Gabriel asylum fraud scheme

A San Gabriel immigration consultant and one of his employees have been sentenced to prison for filing fraudulent asylum applications on behalf of hundreds of Chinese immigrants. 

Haoren Ma, 50, who operated a consulting business called New Arrival Immigration Service, was sentenced last week to 4 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy, immigration document fraud and aggravated identity theft, the U.S. attorney's office said Wednesday. An employee of Ma's, Minghan Dong, 49, was sentenced Monday to one year and one day in prison for conspiracy to commit immigration document fraud.

Both men were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana by Judge Cormac J. Carney.

The pair were accused of preparing and filing applications that made false claims of religious persecution. According to court filings, Ma and Dong told Chinese clients that the easiest way to win asylum was by claiming to be Christians, even when the clients were Buddhists. 

The consultants allegedly coached clients on Christian beliefs and included false accounts of underground Christian church meetings and torture at the hands of Chinese authorities in asylum applications.

While some clients were complicit in the scheme, others did not know their applications included false information, according to court documents. 

Authorities say Ma and Dong, who charged up to $6,500 to prepare and file each asylum application, are linked to more than 800 asylum applications filed since 2000.

Many of the applications were successful, according to prosecutors.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says that the agency does not know exactly how many New Arrival clients won asylum.

"We are committed to identifying those who may have illegally obtained asylum through this fraudulent scheme and will review impacted cases," agency spokeswoman Claire Nicholson said. 

Immigration officials first grew suspicious of the consultant business in 2009 after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers discovered a package that contained a stuffed animal that held five phony Chinese passports, according to the U.S. attorney's office. The package was addressed to a location used as a mail drop by New Arrival Immigration Service.