An Iraqi national whose fraud scheme caused the U.S. government to shut down a critical lifeline for Iraqi refugees was sentenced to a little more than three years in prison.
Aws Muwafaq Abduljabbar orchestrated a massive scam that stole hundreds of files from the Iraqi P-2 refugee program, then used the information to coach other applicants.
After authorities discovered the scam, they shut down the program for more than a year, delaying and perhaps altogether preventing some allies who assisted the U.S. from earning a spot in America.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras on Friday delivered a 37-month sentence to Abduljabbar, who has already been in custody for 20 months and who is likely to be deported at the end of his sentence.
His lawyer told the judge in a sentencing memo that “any return to Iraq would be tantamount to a death sentence.”
That’s what his scam might have meant for some would-be refugees, the government told the judge in its own sentencing memo.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik M. Kenerson said many Iraqis were stuck “in life-threatening situations” while waiting for a government approval that was put on hold from January 2021 to this March while Homeland Security and the State Department tried to clean up the program.
“Accordingly, an applicant who successfully ‘games’ the system based on non-public information stolen as part of the scheme likely eliminates precious opportunity from a genuine refugee who, by definition, is in danger that may result in harm or death,” the prosecutor said.
Mr. Kenerson said the government has also had to spend millions of dollars tracking back through hundreds of cases touched by the scam to try to spot bogus applications.
Initially, there were fears that Abduljabbar and two accomplices may have been stealing the files to use for retaliation against American allies or to sneak bad actors in, but prosecutors now say the motivation “was apparently financial and not animus against the United States.”
The P-2, or “Priority 2” program, is supposed to help people from Afghanistan or Iraq who assisted the U.S. war efforts and who incurred personal risk but who didn’t qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). It usually was offered to those who helped U.S. institutions other than the military.
Usually, refugees have fled their home countries, but the P-2 program is “direct access,” meaning people still inside Iraq and Afghanistan could apply.
Fears of fraud have long dogged both the SIV and P-2 programs, but the extent of Abduljabbar’s scam shocked government officials.
He paid two accomplices, both of whom were contractors for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to steal files of P-2 applicants.
Court documents show they stole records from at least 871 different cases from 2016 to 2019.
One accomplice, Haitham Sad, has already been sentenced to time served — about 25 months. The other person charged in the case, Olesya Krasilova, is still at large.
Abduljabbar himself had sought to come to the U.S. as a refugee but was rejected.
His lawyer said Abduljabbar had served for the U.S. government doing “sensitive” work during the war, which is why he would be a target for retaliation if he is sent back.
According to another case being prosecuted in California, Abduljabbar also was part of a marriage fraud scheme. Prosecutors said it served as a sort of backup option for Iraqis who failed to win refugee status even with the assistance of the stolen files.
Agents said in court documents that the operation charged tens of thousands of dollars to arrange fake relationships for Iraqis and Jordanians, giving them a path to the U.S.
The State Department restarted the P-2 program in March, after making some fixes — though the government has been tight-lipped on what they were.