Ex-immigration officer gets 51 months in prison for taking bribes

A former immigration officer convicted of taking bribes from Cambodian immigrants to allow them to stay in the country has been sentenced to four years and three months in federal prison.

U.S. Dist. Court Judge Andrew J. Guildford sentenced Billy Louis Nelms Sr. on Monday, saying the ex-immigration officer was a “disappointment.” The judge said Nelms’ actions sent the message to immigrants: “Pay the man, get the result.”

Jurors in August found the 54-year-old Nelms guilty of bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and defraud the United States, witness tampering and conspiracy to commit witness tampering.

Nelms’ wife, Sokhon Nelms, 60, of Los Angeles, was found guilty of witness tampering and conspiracy to commit witness tampering for threatening two witnesses at the request of her husband. She is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 6.


“These corrupt actions challenged the integrity of an immigration system Mr. Nelms had sworn to uphold,” said acting U.S. Atty. Stephanie Yonekura in a statement. “Mr. Nelms may have believed that he was above the law, but the prison sentence imposed ... shows that everyone will be held accountable for their illegal actions.”

During the couple’s trial, prosecutors put on evidence that Billy Nelms worked between 2005 and August 2008 in the Santa Ana federal building as an immigration officer in the Fraud Detection and National Security unit. His job was to investigate marriage fraud. But prosecutors alleged a scheme in which immigrants paid as much as $5,000 in cash for Nelms to stamp immigration documents that gave them temporary legal status in the country.

Nelms was arrested after an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General uncovered the bribery scheme.

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