TAMPA, Fla.— Senior U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington today sentenced Elvis Harold Reyes (56, Brandon, Florida) to 20 years and 9 months in federal prison for mail fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme where he posed as an immigration attorney and filed hundreds of fraudulent asylum applications. The Court deferred consideration of victim restitution to a later date.
Reyes had pleaded guilty on December 15, 2020.
According to court documents, Reyes, who owned and operated EHR Ministries Inc., portrayed himself as an immigration attorney. He is not and has never been a licensed attorney. Reyes targeted undocumented immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries who were seeking Florida driver licenses and work authorization. Reyes gave false, inaccurate, and incomplete legal and immigration advice to victims in order to induce them to retain his services and those of EHR Ministries.
Victims retained and paid Reyes to represent them in immigration-related matters before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and other agencies. Reyes filed fraudulent immigration applications in the victims’ names, seeking asylum relief and withholding-of-removal protections provided for under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. In doing so, Reyes falsified answers to questions in the asylum applications—fabricating stories about threats, persecution, and the applicants’ fear of returning to their native countries. Reyes did not inform the victims of the answers that he had provided on their behalf. He also did not inform the victims about the legal, administrative, and other immigration-related consequences that might follow from filing for asylum relief or for Convention Against Torture protection.
Reyes filed more than 225 fraudulent applications, intending to cause victim loss of more than $1 million. His victims’ actual losses exceeded $411,000. Reyes spent the criminal proceeds on, among other things, travel, luxury shopping, spas, jewelry, beautification/anti-aging procedures, and an allowance for his girlfriend.
Reyes threatened aggrieved victims who confronted him by claiming that he could have them deported. And, when investigative reporting revealed Reyes’s scheme, he attempted to obstruct justice by having a friend wipe his computers.
“Posing as an immigration attorney, Reyes targeted hundreds of vulnerable people in the Tampa community with his immigration scam,” said USCIS Tampa District Director Michael Borgen. “USCIS is committed to finding and stopping those who want to cheat the immigration system, and preserving it for those who qualify for immigration benefits.”
“This criminal defrauded hundreds of victims who thought they were starting a path to legal citizenship,” said HSI Tampa Assistant Special in Charge Michael Cochran. “Identity and benefit fraud are crimes that threaten the national security and public safety of the U.S. by creating vulnerabilities to our legal immigration system. Thanks to HSI special agents, and our partners with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, he will now be held accountable for his crimes.”
“It is appalling that Elvis Reyes was preying on vulnerable individuals living in fear within our county,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. “I am proud of our detectives, who thoroughly investigated claims made by each victim, and our diligent efforts to reach undocumented members of our community through both English and Spanish PSAs, encouraging them to come forward if they were taken advantage of by Mr. Reyes. I am confident that these efforts ultimately helped lead to a conviction.”
This case was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Frank Murray.