Alleged NY immigration fraud scheme unraveled by ‘insane story’

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By Dan Sears

A Bronx immigration attorney and his son were accused of scamming hundreds of clients by promising them green cards while fraudulently representing them as victims of abuse, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by the New York attorney general’s office and a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The attorney, Kofi Amankwaa, 69, “allegedly exploited the Violence Against Women Act — a law that allows noncitizen victims of domestic abuse a path to lawful permanent residence status — for their own financial gain by falsely claiming that their clients were victims of domestic abuse,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.

Amankwaa’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.

The alleged racket, according to federal prosecutors, lasted from 2016 to 2023, and resulted in families shelling out thousands of dollars in legal fees, and in several cases, ended in deportations for unsuspecting family members.

Amankwaa and his son, Kofi Amankwaa Jr., were each charged with a single count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and to commit immigration fraud, and a count of immigration fraud, and face 10 years in prison.

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In a statement, Attorney General Letitia James said, “When these immigrants sought help from attorneys claiming to act in their best interests, they were taken advantage of and harmed instead.”

According to the criminal complaint, Amankwaa and his accomplices, some of whom falsely presented themselves as lawyers, typically charged $6,000 for their services.

“The defendants carried out this illegal scheme knowing that their clients had not, in fact, been abused by their children or without ever asking whether any such abuse occurred. Moreover, the defendants were often unsuccessful in obtaining lawful permanent resident status for their clients because the clients’ immigration applications were denied on the basis of fraud, among other reasons.”

James credited Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, D-Queens, “for bringing this issue to light and for her tireless work to protect our most vulnerable communities.”

Cruz told Gothamist a tip came to her office last year from a family member who had been contacted by a someone who reached out “frantically” with news that their mother had been detained at the border.

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The woman, Cruz said, recounted “what would seem like an insane story” concerning an attorney who had, without the family’s knowledge, submitted forms alleging that the parents were being abused by their children and were subsequently eligible for U-visas, meant for victims of crime.

Cruz said she immediately reached out to the AG’s office, and separately learned from others in the Latino community about other alleged victims.

One victim, Gabriella Torres Salazar, told federal prosecutors that attorney Amankwaa had provided her husband a script prior to an interview with immigration authorities.

In court parents, Salazar said, her husband was instructed, if asked, “to tell the immigration officer that he was a victim of abuse” by her son, Luis Anthony Ramales. In reality, Gabriella Salazar said, according to the complaint, “My son never abused me or my husband.”

Salazar said her husband’s application for permanent residency was rejected.

According to a 2019 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the number of VAWA immigration petitions filed had grown by 70% over five years, while the number of petitions flagged for potential fraud had increased by 305%.

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