Man sentenced for posing as ICE agent, scamming immigrants

By Dan Morse Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 1, 2010; 10:51 PM

Tooling around Montgomery County in his Ferrari, Robert Fred Mejia presented himself as the picture of success. In court Monday - moments before he was sentenced to more than a decade in prison - prosecutors laid out the audacious scam that helped him live that life.

Stretching over at least two years, Mejia would slip into the disguise of federal immigration agent "Jimmy Rico." He wore combat boots, a thigh holster, and a shirt and hat bearing the letters ICE, for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He used a different car, one that looked like a police cruiser.

And for the right price - generally thousands of dollars - he and his conspirators offered citizenship and legalization papers to at least 90 people who thought they were getting the real thing.

In handing down the sentence Monday, Circuit Judge Paul Weinstein noted that Mejia was of Hispanic origin, as were the victims and family members watching from the courtroom gallery.

"How do you explain to these hardworking people, who risk their lives to come to the United States, who probably, most of them, work two and three jobs to make ends meet, who save pennies to try to become citizens?" the judge said. "And for you to take advantage of them, it's beyond my comprehension."

Mejia, 29, apologized. "I've lied in every way possible," he said. "I've hurt families."

Speaking to the victims, he said, "When I do get out, I will return to you what is rightfully yours."

"I don't believe him," William Almendares, one of the victims, said after the hearing.

Weinstein sentenced Mejia to 11 years and five months in prison, giving him the 10-year maximum on the theft charges, plus 17 months for a probation violation in another case.

It's not clear how much Mejia stole, but prosecutors say that from 2006 to 2009, he deposited $1.2 million into the bank, while declaring annual incomes of no more than $37,000 on tax returns.

Almendares, 32, a furniture deliveryman who lives in Virginia, said he is a legal resident with a work permit. But he was going to visit El Salvador to see relatives and wanted a green card.

"He looked for real," said Almendares, who is out $4,000.

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