Two members of a ring that sold fake Cuban birth certificates to undocumented immigrants, who then posed as Cuban refugees and applied for green cards, were sentenced to prison Thursday in Miami federal court.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga sentenced Nelson Daniel Silvestri Soutto to one year in prison and three years under supervised release, including nine months of house arrest. Amelia Osorio was sentenced to four months in prison and two years of supervised release, including 11 months of house arrest.
Altonaga also ordered Silvestri to surrender to immigration authorities for deportation to his native Uruguay once he has served his sentence.
Because Osorio was the only defendant free on bond, Altonaga ordered her to surrender to prison authorities to begin serving her sentence Feb. 1. Osorio, a Cuban citizen, could also be placed in deportation proceedings, but Cubans are generally not deported.
Osorio and Silvestri are the second and third defendants in the case to be sentenced. The first was Silvestri’s wife, Laura María Ponce Santos, who was sentenced earlier this year to six months in prison plus two years of supervised release — including nine months under house arrest. She also faces deportation to Uruguay.
Ponce, Silvestri and Osorio were residents of Naples. The alleged leader of the group, Fidel Morejón, lived in Kissimmee. Morejón, who is Cuban, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 28. Like the others, he pleaded guilty.
Hugo Rodríguez, Morejón’s attorney, said his client might get a tougher sentence.
“The government alleges that Mr. Morejón was the originator of the false-document fraud,” Rodriguez said. “As such, in all likelihood he will receive a higher sentence than the others.”
Attorneys for the other defendants declined to comment or did not return calls.
Under the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act of 1966, Cubans who arrive in the United States without visas can stay in the country and apply for residency after a year and one day. To get a green card, Cuban migrants must show proof of Cuban citizenship.
The ring’s clients were of various nationalities, including Argentines, Colombians, Costa Ricans, Mexicans, Peruvians, Salvadorans and Venezuelans.
One of the clients, identified in court records only as J.R., cooperated with investigators and introduced Morejón to an undercover agent who wanted to buy a Cuban birth certificate.
Court documents include transcripts of some of the conversations between Morejón, J.R. and the undercover agent, identified as Rolando.
In one of the transcripts, Morejón said that for the fraud to be successful, Rolando and J.R. would be taken to the Florida Keys and left there as newly arrived rafters. Morejón told them that when the immigration officials picked them up they had to say they were Cubans and know the details of their birth certificates by heart.
In a secretly taped conversation, Morejón advised them on how to respond to questions, but J.R. stumbled when he tried to remember where he was born in Cuba.
“So, if I tell you: ‘Where were you born?’ At this moment you have your [birth certificate]. Where were you born?” asks Morejón, according to the tape’s transcript.
“I was born in Havana . . . no, in Guinness, Guinness, Cuba,” replied J.R., referring to the town of Guines, 30 miles southeast of Havana.
Morejón also advised J.R. not to talk too much while in the custody of immigration authorities before being paroled, apparently to avoid detection of their non-Cuban accents or saying things that a Cuban could not say or know.
“You’re going to be at a place where there would be seven or eight people,” Morejón tells J.R., according to the transcript. “ ‘Hey, how did you get here?’ ‘In a raft.’ ‘Are you Cuban?’ ‘Yes.’ That’s all. That’s all. You don’t have to say more or make much conversation.”
A contrite Silvestri, 55, told Altonaga on Thursday that he was remorseful, and gave the court interpreter a letter to read. Silvestri said he could not read the letter himself because his eyeglasses were broken.
In the letter, Silvestri said he became involved in the fake birth certificate-selling ring because he was desperate to get immigration status himself and because many undocumented immigrants he knew pressured him for help. He also said he felt pressured by Morejón.
“I was waiting for President [Barack] Obama’s immigration reform, but it never came,” wrote Silvestri, by way of explaining his decision to buy a Cuban birth certificate, allegedly from Morejón. “In a moment of great desperation, I accepted [Morejón’s] offer.”
Prosecutors say that while Morejón was the ringleader, Silvestri was the “second most culpable” in the case because he was “very active” in recruiting buyers for the fake birth certificates.
According to court records, Morejón helped Silvestri and his wife get fake Cuban birth certificates, which they then used to obtain green cards. Afterward, the court papers say, the couple helped Morejón recruit other undocumented immigrants who paid $10,000 to $15,000 per certificate.
Prosecutors said Osorio, 61, was the “third most culpable” in the case because she also helped recruit clients. Her attorney, Richard Aldo Serafini, disagreed, telling Altonaga that Osorio played a minor role in the case and aided the government with information that helped investigators dismantle the ring.
“I want to apologize to the government of the United States, the country that gave me freedom,” Osorio told the court minutes before she was sentenced. “I am very remorseful.”
She also said she had agreed to help the ring sell the certificates because Morejón had promised to help “save my son.”
Court records indicate that she paid Morejón $3,500 for a fake presidential pardon for her adult son, who had been convicted of a crime.
Court papers also showed that Morejón posed as an immigration officer who promised to shield potential buyers from deportation or threatened them with deportation if they failed to pay.
½ years, starting in 2009, the group sold fake Cuban birth certificates to about 50 undocumented immigrants, bringing in more than $500,000.