Where Immigration, Identity Theft, and Lying to Banks Converge

It has been a well-publicized fact that ICE agents have been increasingly active in implementing President Trump’s immigration crackdown, including arresting dozens of undocumented immigrants in “sanctuary cities” such as Seattle.


The immigrant-busting agency must now deal with its own illegal activity; namely, one of the agency attorneys pleading guilty to stealing the identities of immigrants while their cases were in various stages of proceedings.


Raphael Sanchez, formerly the chief counsel for the Seattle ICE office, devised a scheme to use immigrants’ identities to defraud financial institutions such as American Express, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase.


The U.S. Justice Department filed charges in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington alleging that Sanchez stole the identities of seven immigrants to defraud financial institutions out of more than $190,000.


Sanchez resigned from the ICE office on February 12, 2018.


On February 15, the attorney pled guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of wire fraud. Under a plea agreement, the Department of Justice agreed not to charge Sanchez for a number of other offenses, although these offenses will be used at an upcoming sentencing hearing to determine the appropriate sentence.


In the plea agreement, Sanchez admitted to using the ICE database to find would-be immigrants and their identities, which he then used to obtain credit cards. He also claimed three immigrants as dependents on his 2014-2015 tax returns.


Because Sanchez used his position of authority to commit fraud using the stolen identities of vulnerable immigrants, he likely faces severe sentence that will introduce him to the inside of a federal prison.


Let’s take a look at the potential penalties for wire fraud and identity theft.


Aggravated Identity Theft


Identity theft occurs when someone wrongfully obtains and uses another individual’s personal data in a fraudulent or deceptive way, typically for economic gain. Aggravated identity theft occurs when the defendant commits identity theft to commit a felony-level offense.


Under the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, identity theft is a federal crime. The Theft Penalty Enhancement Act of 2004 increased the penalties for aggravated identity theft, requiring a mandatory minimum sentence of two years for general aggravated identity theft offenses and five years for terrorism-related offenses.


The penalty for identity theft can range from 2-30 years imprisonment. Sanchez could also face substantial fines and criminal forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the offense.


Wire Fraud


Wire fraud is defined as any fraud that takes place over phone lines or electronic communication. It has four elements:


  • Creation or participation in a scheme to defraud another person or entity of money
  • Acting with the intent to defraud
  • Reasonably foreseeable use of wired communications
  • Use of interstate wire communications


There are a number of common wire fraud schemes, including phishing, telemarketing scams, and using personal information to transfer money out of another person’s bank account.


In Sanchez’s case, the wire fraud charge is likely related to use of electronic communications to apply for credit cards using the immigrants’ stolen identities.


Wire fraud is a federal crime punishable by up to 30 years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $1,000,000.


Federal Fraud Attorney Texas

Due to the nature of his offenses and the fact that the plea deal says that a number of other offenses can be used in sentencing, it is possible that Sanchez’s sentence could exceed the already severe penalties discussed here.


If you are facing bank fraud, wire fraud, or related charges, you do not have to fight them alone. Reach out to a knowledgeable Texas and federal criminal attorney who understands the law and how you can protect your rights.