San Diego District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis announced that her office is seeking additional victims in an immigration fraud case after two defendants pleaded guilty to felony charges. Potential victims would have used the services of the now-defunct Legal Services Network on Fifth Ave. in Downtown San Diego between 1993 and 2005.
Bemilda Asuncion Ruiz, 37, of El Cajon and Jose Rolando Ceseña, 57, of Chula Vista pleaded guilty in San Diego Superior Court to grand theft charges yesterday. Ruiz pleaded guilty to five counts of grand theft and admitted that she stole more than $50,000. Ceseña pleaded guilty to three counts of grand theft. Ruiz will be ordered to pay restitution of $72,648, while Ceseña will have to pay back $26,935.
“We want to send a message to anyone who is engaged in the business of advising others about their immigration matters and who is not a lawyer, that we are increasing our enforcement efforts,” DA Dumanis said. “We want to make sure that anyone who needs help with an immigration issue should hire an attorney.”
The District Attorney’s Office filed a Complaint on March 24, 2005, after receiving reports from the Dept. of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in San Diego, that the defendants had unlawfully taken money from people who sought assistance with adjusting their immigration status. Only an attorney can give the legal advice necessary to assist someone to determine which forms to file with ICE and whether the person is eligible for a change of status. The criminal charges led to additional victims coming forward and there likely are even more.
Under the plea agreement, Ruiz will be sentenced to one year in local jail if she pays restitution before the sentencing date. Otherwise she will be sentenced to two years in state prison. Ceseña will be sentenced to six months in local jail if restitution is paid or face a 16-month prison term. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for Dec. 13, 2005.
The defendants were ordered to pay restitution to any additional victims who come forward. Anyone seeking restitution should contact the DA’s consumer hotline at (619) 531-4070. They can also contact the Mexican Consulate in San Diego at (619) 231-3847 or (619) 231-6634. The District Attorney’s Office continues to work closely with the Mexican Consulate on this and other cases involving financial crimes against Mexican nationals in San Diego.