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Medford businesses allegedly swindled immigrants

Two former Medford residents have been indicted on federal fraud charges alleging that their two businesses swindled immigrants by falsely presenting themselves as lawyers and falsely promising legal status in exchange for fees.

Patrick Keith Snyder owned two Medford businesses, Immigration Solutions and Elite Investigations, both registered with the Secretary of State in Oregon with a purpose of "form preparation."

Between 2009 and 2012, Snyder worked with Juvenal Vega Rodriquez, also named as a defendant, to solicit immigrants seeking legal status in the U.S., according to an indictment filed Nov. 19 in Eugene federal court. The two falsely promised victims legal status in the United States for a fee that ranged between $5,000 and $10,000, the indictment said.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office allege Snyder and Rodriguez falsely posed as accredited representatives for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Genuine accredited representatives are approved by the Board of Immigration Appeals to assist and represent individuals before immigration court matters. In order to qualify, candidates must work for nonprofit, religious, charitable or social services organizations that have been approved by the board. 

Vega, a native Spanish speaker, recruited Spanish-speaking clients at church and social gatherings throughout the state, the indictment said. Vega acted as interpreter and told Spanish speakers at various times that Snyder was a lawyer, an immigration agent and a detective with the FBI and had connections with immigration officials, the indictment alleged.

Medford immigration lawyer Kevin Stout worked at Oregon's largest immigration law firm, Hecht & Norman, before joining a Medford firm. Stout said he had between 10 and 15 clients who were swindled by Snyder and Vega, and estimated there were more than 100 victims throughout the state.

"These guys just ripped people off repeatedly," Stout said. "They intended to rip them off."

John Almaguer, who has practiced family immigration law since 2000, said Vega told a client seeking Almaguer's services that he was dead. He'd actually left Catholic Charities and is now with Idiart Law Group in Medford.

"Some days I don't feel so hot, but I'm still alive," Almaguer said.

Stout said Snyder and Vega targeted people seeking last-ditch efforts when legitimate law firms said odds were against them. 

Stout alleged Snyder's and Vega's crimes were much more malicious than the typical "notario fraud" immigrants face. In a notario scam, unethical notaries public charge fees for services they're not qualified to perform. Since 2007, the practice has been outlawed in the state of Oregon.

In this case, however, Almaguer said, Snyder and Vega are accused of fabricating documents and routinely misleading clients, all the while collecting fees for their "services."

"We'll have to see what the case brings out, but from what I've seen, I've seen flat-out fraud," Almaguer said.

"I think they were filling things out that should not have been filled," Almaguer later added.

Almaguer, who said he tries to keep his fees reasonable, noted that a lawyer's assistance shouldn't be a matter of money.

"If they couldn't afford Kevin's fees or my fees, there's still Nonprofit Legal Services," Almaguer said.

Snyder and Vega sometimes would imply a judge was crooked and ask for money to pay a bribe, he said.

Snyder and Vega required clients to sign nondisclosure agreements and falsely told victims they had insider connections, the indictment said. They gave victims a mix of official immigration documents to sign, some of which were submitted to the Citizenship and Immigration Services and others that were not.  

Alleged victims paid the fees by cash, money orders and cashier's checks. To get more money from their victims, Snyder and Vega allegedly falsified letters they claimed to be from the USCIS saying more documentation was needed.

If clients questioned their validity, Snyder and Vega threatened them with deportation, according to the indictment.

"They were straight up committing theft and threatening victims," Stout said.

Stout said many immigrants were desperate during the first four years of the Obama administration, which initially took a hard stance on immigration.

"Everyone was terrified," Stout said. "People were afraid to go to the grocery store."

Snyder moved to Florida in 2011, according to the indictment. Vega and others collected fees in Southern Oregon and mailed them to Snyder after he relocated.

The indictment outlined nine specific incidents of mail fraud between Nov. 10, 2010, and Dec. 15, 2011, and seven counts of wire fraud between March 3 and Nov. 4, 2011. The indictment alleged that Snyder engaged in money laundering on Jan. 27, 2011, when he used proceeds from fraud to purchase a Dodge truck in Florida for $40,158. 

Many of Snyder's and Vega's victims weren't educated or literate in their native language, let alone in English, and were fearful and unaware of their rights, Almaguer said. 

"I think (Snyder and Vega) thought they could just rip off Mexicans with impunity," Stout said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.