- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2019

An immigrant from Ecuador who worked for the Catholic Church, ostensibly helping other immigrants apply for benefits, was indicted this week on charges that she actually bilked those clients, pocketing their fees and never bothering to file their paperwork.

Monica Karina Mazei worked for the Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo in Michigan’s Immigration Assistance Program, where she helped file applications for visas, citizenship and other benefits.

But prosecutors say she lied to at least 20 of the diocese’s clients, telling them she’d filed the paperwork — and charging them for it — when she hadn’t actually filed it.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said Ms. Mazei immigrated from Ecuador and won citizenship here in 1999, which he said made her conduct all the more striking.

Mazei was given an opportunity to live the American dream herself,” he said, “but she cashed in the dreams of others to line her own pockets.”

Prosecutors, the federal Homeland Security Investigations agency and the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety are seeking any other victims.

She wouldn’t open files on the clients, which shielded the subterfuge from the diocese, and when victims wondered what was taking so long she claimed there were problems and said more documents were needed, authorities said.

Ms. Mazei would sometimes ask the clients to give her a check or money order leaving the payee line blank, then later copy it and write in the correct name on the copy, which she used as a receipt. But on the actual check she filled in her own name and cashed it, authorities said.

They detailed one instance where she deposited checks totaling more than $4,000 from one victim into her personal account, along with more than $3,000 from other victims who paid in money orders over two years.

The diocese said it fired Ms. Mazei in March after it spotted irregularities and reported her to authorities, who then began the investigation that resulted in this week’s indictment.

“The Diocese of Kalamazoo has a long-standing commitment to assist immigrants seeking a legal pathway to citizenship through its Immigration Assistance Program. The Diocese stands ready to assist in finding just and equitable resolutions for the victims of fraud in this matter,” the Catholic officials said.

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