Six employees of a private Santa Ana immigration counseling service have been charged with making false promises of green cards to hundreds of illegal immigrants who paid as much as $4,500 to apply for political asylum.
While the felony grand theft and conspiracy charges involve as many as 200 clients of La Guadalupana Immigration Services, authorities believe there could be 10 times as many cases of asylum fraud across Southern California.
Similar operations have been reported in Anaheim and in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office referred 50 cases that have been included in the charges against the Santa Ana-based business.
La Guadalupana Immigration Services advertised widely in newspapers and on the radio that it could get green cards for clients, Orange County prosecutors say. Clients were given applications for political asylum that, if granted, would result in a green card and proof of legal residency. But asylum is rarely granted to Mexican nationals, and once an application is denied, it can result in deportation, officials said.
"They claimed they could get you work permits and legalization," Deputy Dist. Atty. Byron Nelson said. "They ran a mill. They didn't tell them the rules or tell them what was necessary to substantiate their assertions."
Nelson said all but one of the 200 victims were denied asylum.
Roberto Fernandez, 41, who operates Guadalupana, and three employees -- Maricela Camarillo, Gerardo Calderon and Adan Martinez -- were being held in Orange County Jail. All are scheduled to be arraigned this week.
Authorities also are seeking Guadalupana employees Ulises Fernandez and Marco Antonio Fernandez Olivares.