SEATTLE (AP) — The former chief counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges that he stole immigrants’ identities and used them to defraud banks and credit card companies out of more than $190,000.
Raphael Sanchez, 44, resigned Monday, the same day prosecutors filed charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. He entered his pleas Thursday at U.S. District Court in Seattle, acknowledging to the U.S. Magistrate Judge John L. Weinberg that his victims were vulnerable due to their immigration status.
Prosecutors said that beginning in 2013, Sanchez stole the identities of seven people in various stages of immigration proceedings. The Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section and Sanchez’s lawyer, Casey Stamm, agreed to recommend a term of four years in prison when he’s sentenced May 11.
“Raphael Sanchez is a good person who has made serious mistakes,” Stamm said in a written statement. “Mr. Sanchez does not offer excuses for his acts; rather, he simply provides his sincere and immense regret.”
Sanchez is the second lawyer in ICE’s Seattle office to run into legal trouble in recent years. Jonathan Love pleaded guilty in 2016 to a charge that he forged documents in an effort to deprive an immigrant of the legal permanent resident status to which he was entitled.
The latest case drew condemnation from immigrant rights advocates.
“The prosecution of ICE Chief Counsel Raphael Sanchez underscores the perception that ICE is a rogue agency,” Rich Stolz, executive director of the immigrant rights group OneAmerica, said in a written statement.
“When law enforcement officials are the ones being investigated for crimes they have committed, and when long-time community members are being torn from their families due to unauthorized status alone, one must ask whether any increased investment in immigration enforcement makes sense for the nation, or for ICE, an agency that still needs to get its own affairs in order.”
The agency did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.