A former paralegal for a Brigantine law firm used makeup and even ketchup to fake injuries in an attempt to help illegal immigrants gain residency, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said Wednesday.
Maria James, 68, of Willingboro, Burlington County, had her first appearance in Camden federal court Wednesday morning on a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. She was charged last week.
James — who also goes by Maria Negron and Maria Martinez — worked as a paralegal on immigration issues at the office from 2002 through June 2011. The firm is listed only as the Law Offices of JLK, LLC.
JLK, a co-conspirator, was suspended from practicing Feb. 19, 2009, and his work was then taken on by attorneys P.M. and G.H., authorities said.
While working for the three, James solicited and recruited clients illegally in the country, according to the charges. She allegedly arranged for two marriages and filed numerous fraudulent immigration petitions seeking to allow her clients to obtain legal permanent resident status.
At least 22 of James’ former clients have admitted that the immigration petitions submitted by James and the attorneys contained false and fraudulent information. Many of the petitions were based on false claims that the clients were abused by spouses and included fraudulent supporting documentation, including photographs taken by James or at her direction, Fishman said.
James then filed or directed the filing of petitions with U.S. Customs and Immigration Services by U.S. mail or Federal Express, the charges state.
James appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio in Camden federal court Wednesday morning and was released on a $50,000 bond.
The charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
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