A federal judge held a preliminary hearing Monday in the criminal case against a former New York immigration lawyer who prosecutors say made millions of dollars leading a fraud scheme that won legal immigration status for tens of thousands of clients.
Earl Seth David pleaded not guilty last week to fraud and conspiracy charges after being accused of operating one of the largest immigration fraud schemes ever. Federal prosecutors say that from 1997 to 2009, David’s New York-based law firm created fraudulent immigration applications for 25,000 clients, charging each as much as $30,000.
New York lawyer Michael Mandel says the charges stem from forged promises of employer sponsorship.
“Fraudulent applications saying that U.S. employers had sponsored the immigrant workers for working visas or for permanent residency for their 'green card' [U.S. permanent residency identification card], and either no such employer existed or, if they did, they weren’t aware that an application was being filed on their behalf or they were just completely made up applications," said Mandel.
After being suspended from the practice of law in New York State in 2004, David allegedly continued to run the firm behind the scenes, until he learned he was being investigated. He fled to Canada, where he lived under the name Rabbi Avraham David and published a book, “Codes of the Heart,” purporting to decipher the meaning of numbers in the Hebrew Bible. Prosecutors say he continued to receive funds from his law firm, some of which were funneled through a bank account set up for his book.
Immigration officials have not said how many of the immigration cases that David’s firm handled will be re-opened. Prosecutors call the applicants “victims,” and attorney Michael Mandel agrees.
“Immigrants right now in the United States, especially undocumented immigrants who don’t have any legal status, are in an incredibly vulnerable, precarious position," he said. "And it is so easy for somebody to prey off them, simply giving them a little bit of good news or optimism or reason to think that everything is going to be okay with their situation. Not to justify it, but I think it explains why a lot of people might look the other way or just think that, ‘I’m talking to somebody who’s a lawyer, they’re telling me that I’m going to be okay, so I’m going to be okay. And I’m not going to ask any questions.’”
David, who is 47- years-old, faces up to 50 years in prison, if convicted. Eleven other defendants are on trial with him as co-conspirators. Thirteen others were charged earlier; most of them have pleaded guilty and already have been sentenced.