Utah law firm indicted in case of visa fraud

Salt Lake immigration attorney faces federal charges for allegedly faking work passes

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Ed Moreno, assistant director for domestic operations for the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, said the organizations wanted to make a statement against such schemes.

"We want to deliver a clear message that we will aggressively pursue and investigate visa fraud," Moreno said. "This case is particularly reprehensible as it involves a local law firm and two former government employees."

Sister Wagner said she was glad to hear that the government was investigating Alcala's firm but was concerned that those who received visas may be arrested and deported, even though they may have been deceived in the alleged document scheme.

Tolman said that the current focus of the investigation is on the listed defendants, namely the firm and its employees, though they will eventually investigate the businesses and foreign workers involved as well. Investigators said Tuesday they currently believe the majority of the businesses involved were innocent.

Salt Lake immigration attorney Lance Starr was a one-time employee of Alcala. He worked on criminal and deportation cases at the firm for about seven months in 2006 and said Tuesday that it wasn't until after he left the firm that he discovered what he said appeared to be deceptive conduct by his former employer.

Starr said he reviewed applications processed by Alcala's office for two people seeking resident alien status in the United States. The applications were rejected, but Starr discovered several documents that he says indicated the two applicants had been employed by a Mexican company during a certain time period.

Starr said he knew the information was incorrect, and believes it was included by Alcala, not by the applicants. Starr brought the matter to Tolman and held a series of meetings with the prosecutor over the course of a year. That information is likely what instigated the investigation of Alcala, but a spokeswoman from Tolman's office declined to confirm that.

Prosecutors claim the firm was able to obtain more than 5,000 visas. Tolman said it was possible some of those visas were obtained legally, though they believe "the majority" were obtained illegally. He said it is "safe to say" the law firm made "thousands of dollars" off of the scheme.

Five of the eight defendants have been arrested and their initial appearance will take place Wednesday at 10 a.m. in federal court.

e-mail: emorgan@desnews.com; araymond@desnews.com

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