Second person in Germantown immigration scam sentenced to prison
Dozens of immigrants bilked out of hundreds of thousands by their doctor and federal agent impersonator
A Gaithersburg woman who helped bilk unwitting immigrants out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for citizenship documents they never received was sentenced to five years in prison Friday.
On Nov. 1, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Joseph A. Dugan, Jr. found Erlinda Marin, 54, guilty of theft scheme and practicing without a medical license. She was also sentenced Friday to five years for practicing without a license, a term that will be served concurrently.
She had been running an illegal medical clinic in Gaithersburg with nearly 400 clients, 90 of whom lost money in the scheme.
An accomplice, Robert Fred Mejia, 29, of Germantown, was sentenced Nov. 1 by Circuit Court Judge Paul H. Weinstein to 60 years in jail for theft, with all but 10 years suspended. Mejia, who used the pseudonym of Jimmy Rico, is also serving 17 months for a previous arrest for impersonating a police officer and harassment.
In the scam, Mejia would dress like an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, and promise the immigrants he could get them citizenship papers. If they couldn't pay, Mejia or Marin would threaten them with deportation, according to testimony in court.
Montgomery County Police have also charged Marin's daughter, 26-year-old Sandra Marin Rivera, with theft charges for taking part in the scheme. A jury trial is scheduled for Jan. 18.
All three were arrested in April.
Several dozen of Marin's victims and about an equal number of supporters filled a seventh-floor court room to hear the judge's decision Friday morning.
Marin's attorney, Terrence M. McGann, had four people speak to defend her character and testify to her powers of healing.
She treated patients by reprogramming their nerves to relieve ailments like back pain, said John Simon, a former patient and friend who drove overnight from Chicago.
Other patients talked about their friend and how she'd helped them.
"Of all the doctors and therapists I've had in my life, she was the first one that stood me up," said Timothy Strachan, who became paralyzed after diving through a wave at Bethany Beach, Del., in 1993. "Lindy is one of the most incredible people I've met in my entire life. She helped me not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. She is nothing short of a living, breathing saint to me."
Another woman brought her 4-year-old son, Angel, into the courtroom and told the judge he was able to walk and overcame other health issues after treatments with Marin.
Dugan said he received more than five dozen letters supporting Marin and a similar number of victim impact statements from prosecutors.
"I've never covered a case where one side thinks the defendant should be canonized as a saint and the other side considers her the reincarnation of the devil," Dugan said.
Before sentencing Marin, the judge chastised her and the patients who sought citizenship paperwork through illegal means.
"These people who were cheated knew you didn't go to someone's home or apartment or office to do this the right way," Dugan said. "This is the kind of thing that happens when we don't do what we are supposed to do, when we come here illegally."
He said he believed that Marin had done a lot of good in the community by helping the sick at no cost. He went on to say it was impossible to believe she was duped by Mejia, as McGann claimed in her defense.
"How come you don't get on the phone and say to these people: Don't give me any more of your money. This guy is a cheat,'" Dugan asked. "The only possible reason for you to do that is because you were making money. There's no question in my mind."
Agent Lyndon George, with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations division, said an informant told George that he had laundered more than $70,000 for Mejia and Marin. The informant's name was not released.
Investigators say they know of $2 million that was paid by illegal immigrants through the scheme; they have traced $1.2 million that traveled through Mejia's bank accounts.
McGann argued that no such money trail has been pinned to Marin, signaling that Mejia ran the operation.
But Assistant State's Attorney Stephen Chaikin said Marin's lifestyle which included a renovated Gaithersburg townhouse and private high school for her son didn't match with her employment as a housekeeper and AmWay saleswoman. Marin did not charge patients for her treatments, but accepted donations.
George said Marin learned how to hide money after she was charged with money laundering by United States Customs agents in 1997. She pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of making false statements in that case, George told the judge.
Marin told victims in the court room that she was sorry.
"I make a big mistake," Marin said. "I never tried to steal money from nobody. I trust a person who had uniform. I never take one penny to my pocket."
Chaikin said the sentence was an example that justice is served in Montgomery County regardless of a person's immigration status.
"We want all the people in our community to know that if you are the victim of a crime, we're just going to ask what happened and how we can help you. We are not going to ask about your citizenship status," Chaikin said after the hearing.
"I'm relieved that [Marin] is being held accountable for her crimes. This was a sophisticated operation. People rely on their doctor. When their doctor gives them advice, they tend to follow it," Chaikin continued.
At a post-sentencing meeting with the victims, Chaikin explained that they probably wouldn't get their money back, despite the convictions.
Blanca Flores, a U.S. citizen and resident of Germantown, paid $35,000 to bring several family members to the United States from El Salvador. Her family there borrowed against their homes to get the cash and now everyone is struggling to meet the burden, Flores said.
Mejia faces more jail time for violating federal laws.
In August, he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt to conspiring to transport money obtained by fraud across state lines, to impersonating an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, and to being a felon in possession of ammunition.
A sentencing hearing in that case is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday. The combined maximum sentence for the crimes is 25 years in prison, nine years parole and a $750,000 fine.