Woman in immigration fraud case has until June to decide plea decision

The judge presiding over the immigration fraud case against a prominent member of the Venezuelan exile community has agreed to give the defendant, Maylin Silva, until June to decide whether she will go to trial or plead guilty.

In a separate case, a Cuban immigrant — Josefa Siverio — has pleaded guilty to charges related to immigration fraud, and her sentencing has been scheduled for June.

The cases highlight a continuing problem for federal immigration authorities. Immigration fraud emerges regularly in federal court records as undocumented immigrants desperately seek ways to legalize their presence in the country.

The Silva case has attracted the most attention because she was a prominent member of the Venezuelan exile community in South Florida, at one time heading a group called Todos por Venezuela or All for Venezuela.

Silva asked U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles to give her until May so that she and her attorney can look over “voluminous” evidence supplied by prosecutors.

Gayles actually gave Silva until June to make up her mind, setting a tentative date to start trial by mid-June.

Silva, 64, initially agreed to change her plea to guilty, but changed her mind and fired her previous attorney.

Silva has been in detention since federal agents on Nov. 2 arrested her just moments before she attempted to board a flight to Caracas, where she intended to hide after a grand jury in Miami charged her with conspiracy to “encourage aliens” to reside illegally in the United States through fraudulent applications for immigration benefits, according to court records.

The indictment in the case says that from July 2005 to December 2014, Silva prepared several allegedly fraudulent immigration applications. She was initially arrested in New York, but the court there freed her on bond and allowed her to travel to Miami with the condition of reporting to federal court here to be prosecuted. Instead, she discarded the electronic ankle bracelet she was wearing and bought a ticket to Venezuela.

Siverio, meanwhile, pleaded guilty April 12 to one count in the indictment dealing with misuse of money orders, which she was paid with by immigrants to file applications for immigration documents.

U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno plans to sentence Siverio in June, according to court records.

Siverio, 61, initially pleaded not guilty at her arraignment Feb. 23 on charges of mail fraud and other counts related to immigration fraud, according to court records.

The records show that the case against Siverio, born in Cuba, began in December 2010 when concerns arose about the services the defendant offered to immigrants.

“She promoted herself as an immigration consulting and services provider who prepared immigration petitions and applications for aliens,” according to the indictment.

Officials said Siverio prepared at least 146 fraudulent petitions and applications for immigrants who paid for her services.

According to the indictment, Siverio did not send the immigration agency the checks and money orders she collected from immigrants. Instead, “she made the checks and money orders payable to herself,” the indictment said.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “rejected the immigration benefit petitions and applications of Josefa Siverio’s clients because the required fees were not submitted with their petitions and applications,” the indictment said.