A “serial immigration agent impersonator” pleaded guilty for the second time in less than a year to federal fraud charges, admitting that, after stealing more than $150,000 from more than 20 immigrants in New Jersey over a three-year period, he moved his scheme to Florida and defrauded several more.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott McBride convinced Michael Ruiz, 46, of Newark, New Jersey, to agree to plead guilty to a three-count Indictment, originating out of the Middle District of Florida, charging him with impersonating an immigration officer in order to get illegal payments. Ruiz would have faced a much harsher sentence had he been convicted at a trial.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Ruiz admitted that he relocated from New Jersey to Jacksonville, Florida in late 2007, where he pretended to immigrants that he was an immigration agent. For example, in November 2008, the defendant approached a victim at his business in Jacksonville and offered to assist the victim with an immigration matter.
When the victim resisted the offer, Ruiz threatened to derail the victim’s pending naturalization proceeding. The victim yielded and paid Ruiz $495 by Moneygram. Ruiz then used a female relative and her child to pick up the Moneygram from Walmart, telling her that he could not pick up the money because he didn’t have Florida identification – which was not true.
Ruiz also admitted that in December 2008, he demanded $980 in cash and $380 in a Moneygram from two more victims in Jacksonville in exchange for promised help with a visa application. On top of that, he said that in January 2009, in Orange Park, Florida, he demanded and received $1,185 in a Moneygram from two additional victims in exchange for a promise to help them with their relative’s immigration problems.
According to Ruiz, he victimized these and other Floridians for a total loss of roughly $62,000.
On October 6, 2009, Ruiz pleaded guilty to a mail fraud charge related to a three-year mail fraud scheme to defraud immigrants in New Jersey. He would approach those immigrants and introduce himself under a false name, tell them that he worked for “INS” or some other federal immigration authority, and offer a variety of immigration services for a fee, none of which he was in a position to provide.
The case involved more than 20 victims who lost more than $150,000 in losses.
Ruiz faces three years in prison on each of the counts to which he pleaded today, and 20 years in prison on the mail fraud charge to which he previously pleaded guilty. He also faces, for each count, a maximum fine of the greatest of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss caused by his offense.
Sentencing is set for Aug. 19 in U.S. District Court in Trenton.
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