Covington man indicted in New York for fraud

COVINGTON - A 61-year-old Covington man has been indicted in New York City for allegedly posing as an attorney offering immigration legal services, according to a press release from Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

Wilmer Rivera Melendez, 61, of 8180 Collier Road, has been charged with scheme to defraud, grand larceny, attempted grand larceny and practicing or appearing as an attorney-at-law without being admitted to the bar and registered. The crimes allegedly occurred between November 2008 and October 2009.

According to Newton County Sheriff's Office Detention Center records, Melendez has been arrested twice in Covington - once on an outstanding warrant in Lamar County in November 2002, apparently on a bigamy charge, and once in February 2003 for failure to appear, which involved traffic citations. He is listed on the Georgia Department of Corrections Web site as having served a 2-year prison sentence for bigamy, which was committed on Aug. 7, 2002. He was sentenced in 2004 and his release date was Aug. 10, 2006.

"The investigation leading to today's indictment revealed that Melendez claimed to be an employee of W&R Immigration Services, purportedly a nonprofit organization located in Covington, Georgia," Morgenthau said. "Melendez filed applications and petitions with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service on behalf of undocumented individuals."

Melendez, who according to NCSO jail records was born in Puerto Rico, required that his New York-based clients pay for his traveling expenses from Georgia to New York by wiring money to his account, the press release stated.

"Melendez claimed to be an attorney with approximately 20 years of experience working for immigration within the federal government. As part of his representation, Melendez required his clients to fill out and sign a Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Representative, which gave him the authority to represent them in court proceedings regarding immigration matters. Melendez then promised that he could obtain a green card for them within two years by filing for Withholding of Removal, a status which gives a holder permission to remain in the U.S. until further notice. This promise is fake because a person granted Withholding of Removal can never obtain a green card," according Morgenthau.

Morgenthau said investigators discovered that Melendez would tell his clients that USCIS would schedule an interview to question him or her about their claim.

"While the petition for Withholding of Removal is pending, he explained, the clients could receive a work permit after 150 days had passed since the filing of the withholding petition," Morgenthau explained. "In order to ensure that the 150 days elapsed, Melendez reschedule the interview numerous times. However, this rescheduling did not count towards the 150-day calculation because the petitioner, not the federal government, caused the delay. After the individuals failed to attend the interview a few times, their cases were sent to an immigration judge, and deportation hearings were scheduled. When individuals questioned Melendez about their cases, he refused to take their telephone calls and/or changed his telephone number."

The District Attorney said that it is believed Melendez perpetrated his fraud on at least 14 victims in New York.

"Melendez is not a licensed attorney in New York or Georgia," he said. "The Executive Office for Immigration Review confirmed that Melendez is not an accredited representative authorized to represent clients before USCIS or the immigration courts. The Department of Homeland Security Immigration Customs Enforcement has confirmed that Melendez has never been employed by DHS or the former Immigration and Naturalization Service."

Anyone who has more information about this case or who has sought services from Melendez should contact the New York County District Attorney's Immigrant Affairs Program hotline at 212-335-3600.

Barbara Knowles can be reached at barbara.knowles@newtoncitizen.com.