- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2016

Five hundred illegal immigrants paid as much as $10,000 apiece to try to buy their way into U.S. citizenship through a fraudulent adult adoption program, federal prosecutors said Thursday as they unveiled an indictment against the man they said ran the scheme.

Helaman Hansen, the ringleader, assured the illegal immigrants that adult adoption was a legitimate way to take advantage of part of the law that allows citizenship in certain adoption cases, authorities said. However, the law cannot be used for adoptions of those over 16.

The scheme was targeted at illegal immigrants here in the U.S.

Initially Mr. Hansen and his co-conspirators charged $150 when they began in 2012, but the fee has since risen to $10,000, prosecutors said. The high cost signals just how valuable a legal foothold is even to those who often have few means.

“The adoption of adult aliens is not a legitimate path to U.S. citizenship,” said Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of California. “While the charges against this defendant are only allegations at this point, no one should pay fees to anyone making false promises of citizenship through adult adoption.”

None of the approximately 500 victims won citizenship. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency charged with approving applications, caught and denied each application, prosecutors said.

Mr. Hansen knew the scheme was unworkable, being told so in 2012 by USCIS, but kept it up anyway, according to the indictment.

The scammers hired recruiters to seek out victims, paying $1,500 for each person brought into the scheme, and they advertised online and made presentations to church congregations offering the illegal service.

The victims were told to try to find someone willing to adopt them, but if that failed Mr. Hansen and his operation would find one for them — or adopt the victim themselves, prosecutors charged.

Mr. Hansen was charged with 11 counts of mail fraud, as well as several related charges. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.

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