Evelyn Sineneng-Smith
Evelyn Sineneng-Smith

CHICAGO – A Filipina immigration consultant who was convicted of three counts of inducing illegal immigration of her fellow Filipino nationals and three counts of mail fraud got a split ruling from United States District Judge Ronald M. White of the Northern District of California in San Francisco after she appealed her jury-trial conviction.

Evelyn Sineneng-Smith, 66, who has an immigration consultation business in San Jose and “store front” offices in Beverly Hills and La Jolla, all in California, and Las Vegas, Nevada and New York, New York, won a judgment of acquittal and a ruling of a new trial from three counts of mail fraud.

The U.S. government failed to prove that Sineneng-Smith “made any representations at all regarding (“O.”) Galupo’s ability to obtain legal residency” nor “encouraged Galupo to reside illegally in the United States.”

But Sineneng-Smith still faces four other counts, including Counts Two (in the case of “A.” Guillermo) and Count Three (in the case of “H.” Esteban), before Judge Whyte as “this interpretation” of the immigration law “does not render it unconstitutionally vague or deny Sineneng-Smith fair notice.”

The U.S. government represented by Northern District U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag and Assistant US Attorney Susan Knight set a status hearing on May 27, 2014 on the tax charges involved in the case.

In acquitting Sineneng-Smith and conditionally granting her motion for a new trial, Judge Whyte said the government failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Sineneng-Smith committed mail fraud.

But Judge Whyte retained the government’s charge against Sineneng-Smith of mail fraud in Count Two after Guillermo testified that she met with defendant Sineneng-Smith and her staff member, and Guillermo’s employer, Marilyn Santiago, in 2002 when he signed a retainer agreement to obtain labor certification, paying Sineneng-Smith $200 per month plus down payment for a total of $5,900.

When Guillermo got the approval of labor certification after five years, Sineneng-Smith urged Guillermo to apply for a “Petition for Alien Worker (I-140)” and caused him to sign a retainer agreement for $1,000 while she paid $300 down for a “premium processing service” for “Work Permit/Green Card” although it was impossible to obtain.

The charge of Count Three (arising from Esteban’s case) had the same circumstances as that of Guillermo and had even “stronger evidence” because it was “uncontested that Sineneng-Smith knew that Esteban’s continued residence in the United States was illegal.”

Galupo, Guillermo and Esteban were among the individuals who responded to her advertisements in Filipino newspapers and flyers distributed at at residential healthcare facilities. She knew they were working illegally. Sineneng-Smith’s guilty verdict came after a 13-day jury trial before Judge Whyte.

Evidence at trial showed that Sineneng-Smith operated an immigration consultation business in San Jose, California from 1990 to 2008. She advised foreign nationals, mainly Filipino citizens who came to the United States on visitors’ visas, to apply for a labor certification from the United States Department of Labor as path towards lawful permanent residence.

She charged the victims $5,900 for the filing of such applications, all the while knowing that the law had changed, and that her clients did not qualify under existing immigration regulations to obtain lawful permanent residence.

According to the testimonies of several victims, Sineneng-Smith failed to inform them that they were ineligible to obtain permanent residence. In addition, Sineneng-Smith encouraged the victims who were holders of tourist visas to overstay and work illegally in residential healthcare facilities.

Evidence at trial showed that Sineneng-Smith deposited over $3.3 million in payments from clients from August 2004 through 2007.

Sineneng-Smith was indicted by a federal grand jury on July 14, 2010. She was charged with three counts of encouraging and inducing illegal immigration for private financial gain and three counts of mail fraud. She is assisted by private defense counsel Daniel F. Cook.

She was sentenced on Nov. 4, 2010 after the court ruled on post-trial motions. The maximum penalty for each count of encouraging and inducing illegal immigration for private financial gain is 10-year imprisonment and fine of $250,000. She also faces 20 years of imprisonment for each count of mail fraud and fine of $250,000, plus restitution.

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Joseph is a former reporter of the Manila Bulletin, former president of the Rizal-Metro Manila Reporters Association and former president of the Chicago chapter of the National Press Club of the Philippines. A prolific reporter, Lariosa writes a column and news stories for the Filipino Star News and other Filipino community newspapers in the US as well as for GMA News and the Manila Bulletin.

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