Attorney Raphael Sanchez’s scheme was a complex one.
Using his position as a chief counsel at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Seattle office, he plotted to profit from the personal information of several immigrants. In four years, he made charges and drew payments in excess of $190,000. Years later, an internal investigation uncovered the fraud, and the Justice Department filed criminal charges in 2017. On Thursday, Sanchez was sentenced to four years in prison.
After 17 years working for ICE, Sanchez, 44, lived comfortably earning a six-figure salary as a high-ranking attorney. He represented the agency in all deportation proceedings and asylum hearings throughout Alaska, Oregon and Washington, according to court documents.
With unbridled access to otherwise confidential agency information, Sanchez was uniquely able to devise a well-planned scheme. Between October 2013 and October 2017, Sanchez combed government databases and immigration files and collected personal information on his soon-to-be victims, according to a Justice Department news release. Sanchez preyed on individuals who would not realize or be able to report a stolen identity by targeting people without legal status. All victims were at various stages of ICE’s removal proceedings, according to a statement released by ICE.
Using Social Security numbers, birthdays and addresses, Sanchez opened bank accounts, email accounts and credit cards in the victims’ names, according to court documents. To keep up with the web of lies, Sanchez falsified documents like public utility accounts for proof of residence and assembled counterfeit IDs, the court documents say. For the male identities, Sanchez used his own photograph, and for the female identities he affixed a picture released in the media of a woman who had been murdered. Sanchez also lied to the Internal Revenue Service for three years, claiming a few aliens as dependent family members to receive extra tax deductions, according to a Justice Department statement.
Throughout the fraud, Sanchez continued in his role as chief counsel, at one point negotiating a $2.25 million settlement on behalf of the government in a case brought against an apple producer for violating immigration law by employing undocumented workers.
“I was completely stunned when I found out,” said Shannon Underwood, a Seattle immigration attorney. She interacted with Sanchez regularly by email, phone and in person in her role as liaison for the Executive Office for Immigration Review. “My impression of him would have made him one of the last people in the office to do this. He seemed to be a very straight, rule-and-procedure-following person.”
Over four years, according to court documents, Sanchez was “creating sham business entities to act as conduits, and creating an intricate paper trail of falsified official documents and forged correspondence,” defrauding major financial institutions, including American Express, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, of nearly $200,000.
“ICE employees are required to ensure honest enforcement of more than 400 laws,” Tracy Short, ICE principal legal adviser, said in a statement. “Corruption will not be tolerated.”
Yet this was not the first transgression for the Seattle office.
“We’ve been troubled about this situation particularly because it wasn’t the first time that there was wrongdoing in this office,” said Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. The group represents Ignacio Lanuza Torres, who was deported after Jonathan Love, another Seattle ICE attorney, falsified government documents. Sanchez was responsible for the internal investigation into Love, who pleaded guilty in 2016, according to ICE.
“Even before the whole Sanchez episode came to light we had been concerned about the investigation,” Baron said. His client’s deportation case, Baron said, was not unique, which made him wonder whether there were other victims. “The head of the [ICE] office was committing fraud himself.”
Even more stunning, Underwood added, was that the accusations against Sanchez and Love’s sentencing were within 13 months of each other.
The identity theft came to a halt when an ICE audit flagged suspicious activity on one of Sanchez’s accounts, launching an internal investigation. Soon thereafter, Sanchez was arrested and charged in federal court with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Sanchez pleaded guilty to two felonies in February. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik of the Western District of Washington imposed a four-year sentence; each count received 24 months. Lasnik also ordered Sanchez to pay over $190,000 in restitution.
Sanchez has since resigned from the agency and been disbarred. His attorney, Cassandra Stamm, did not respond to a message seeking comment.