A Lafayette man charged in federal court this month is accused of soliciting services to immigration detainees and disappearing with their money.
Edwin Zavala Jr., 24, entered a plea of not guilty on Wednesday to four counts of mail fraud and four counts of wire fraud, according to court records.
Documents in Zavala’s case were unsealed Friday. A grand jury returned the indictment March 11.
Zavala is accused of offering to represent people detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement through his limited-liability company, United Immigration Consulting — which also operated as National Immigration Services.
Although he is not a licensed attorney nor a legal representative, he offered to represent them at deportation proceedings, assist them in obtaining work permits and bond them out of detention facilities at costs ranging from $400 to $10,000, according to the indictment.
Zavala would obtain personal information — including a detainee’s name, alien registration number and where they were being held in detention — from a source not yet disclosed in the public court filings, according to the indictment.
He would then send Spanish-language letters to those detainees offering his services and urging quick action, according to one translated into English in the indictment.
“ We have to teach the United States that Hispanics deserve to have opportunities in this country. You and everyone else that has been detained came to this country for a better life, not to be detained. Do not wait too long, because a lot of times, Immigration can keep you detained for several months or years,” the letter stated.
Once he secured a client, Zavala would instruct them to wire money to his bank accounts or through Western Union or MoneyGram before he ceased communication, according to the indictment.
In the facts presented with Zavala’s four counts of mail fraud, the indictment cites four letters sent through the U.S. Postal Service to Washington, Texas, New Jersey and Ohio. It references four transactions from Texas and California totaling $4,500 as the factual basis behind the four counts of wire fraud.
Investigators allege in the indictment that Zavala obtained more than $40,000 from 40 or more immigration detainees or their family or friends.
A phone number listed for Zavala’s business had been disconnected by Friday afternoon.
Zavala was released from custody pending trial, which is set for May 16 before Judge Donald E. Walter.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.