An immigration attorney from Fishers, Indiana, an affluent suburb on the north side of Indianapolis, was sentenced to just over six years or 75 months in federal prison. His crime? Defrauding U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as well as defrauding more than 250 of his clients seeking representation in immigration matters by filing fraudulent visa applications. In so doing, he reaped the benefit of some $750,000 in illegitimate legal fees for his fraudulent work.
According to a recent release from the Justice Department, 45-year-old Joel Paul entered the plea agreement into the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis on Tuesday of this past week with sentencing handed down by Obama appointee, U.S. District Judge Jane E. Magnus-Stinson of the Southern District of Indiana. The plea agreement shows Paul’s fraudulent ventures in all their glory, showing Paul submitted more than 250 visa applications for his clients without their knowledge or permission, charging upwards of $3,000 per application and taking in a sum total of approximately $750,000 in fraudulent fees.
In November 2017, Paul pleaded guilty to one count each of mail fraud, immigration document fraud, and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to submit fraudulent U-visa applications. Under the law, should the DOJ choose to pursue it, these charges could be construed as racketeering and Paul could be pursued under the RICO statute if he does not live up to the terms of his plea agreement. In addition to prison time, the judge also ordered Paul to serve an additional three years of supervised release, as well as pay up to $750,000 in restitution to his victims.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division stated of Paul’s fraudulent acts – “Immigration fraud undermines not only the public’s faith in our institutions and the legal profession, it also jeopardizes public safety and compromises national security. Attorneys who commit such egregious fraud on our legal system and their own clients will be held accountable.”
Special Agent in Charge James M. Gibbons of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) echoed those thoughts stating – “Immigration fraud presents a serious threat to the national security of our country. Illegal schemes like this not only undermine the integrity of our nation’s legal immigration system, but they create potential security vulnerabilities while also cheating deserving immigrants of benefits they rightfully deserve.”
The Indy Star reports – “Paul claimed in the paperwork that the clients had been crime victims who helped law enforcement. In 200 applications, he submitted phony documents from the U.S. attorney’s office that claimed the applicant had provided substantial assistance in a criminal case.”
The Indiana Lawyer sheds more light on the severity of Paul’s crimes, stating – “According to charges filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the case involves an immigration benefit known as the U visa. U visas can be granted to certain crime victims who help authorities in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
In July 2013, the court papers say, Paul helped 13 clients secure legitimate U visa credentials. He then used paperwork from those cases to submit fraudulent U visa applications on behalf of more than 250 other clients. Paul charged those clients about $3,000 per application. The Department of Justice said the victims weren’t aware that Paul was acting illegally.
‘Paul also knew, as his scheme stretched over the course of several years, that CIS (the Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Services) was denying the fraudulent applications he was filing, but he continued to collect fees from clients, represent to them that they would get visas from CIS as a result of his legal assistance, and file fraudulent applications,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in the court filing.’”
Paul also previously practiced law in Connecticut and according to the Connecticut Roll of Attorneys, Paul was reprimanded in 2011 after the Board of Professional Responsibility for the state of Connecticut received complaints of unethical behavior. He was ordered to take three hours of continuing legal education ethics instruction within six months. According to his professional record in the state of Connecticut, he complied with this requirement.
The agreed resolution of the Connecticut attorney discipline case against Paul based on a 2010 grievance does not include details of the complaint lodged against him. Paul acknowledged in the agreed resolution that in that case, he violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2 concerning the scope of representation and allocation of authority between a client and lawyer, along with Rule 1.4 concerning a lawyer’s duty to communicate with a client.
At the time of this grievance, the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee made note in its resolution of the complaint against him, stating Paul “further agrees to seek admission to the Indiana Bar.”
Despite this order, it appears that Paul made no attempts to be admitted to the Indiana Bar nor is he listed on the Indiana Roll of Attorneys. Yet Paul was still admitted to practice in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana in 2004. It is unknown if this was a provisional admittance or not.
What is also interesting and what many people view as downright criminal, is that despite the 75-month prison sentence, 3 additional years of supervised release, and the order to pay $750,000 of restitution to his victims, Paul’s Connecticut law license associated with Bar No. 422921 remains active. It also appears despite previously admonishment from the court, this is the only law license Paul has ever possessed and he did not seek admittance into the Indiana Bar despite practicing law in Indiana and being ordered to do so by the Connecticut Bar.