3 headed to prison for immigration service scheme

Three Missourians are headed to prison for mail and wire fraud in connection to an immigration services scheme in Sedalia.

Tuesday in federal court, 31-year-old Thomas Lawrence was sentenced to 130 months in prison. 50-year-old Thomas Strawbridge was sentenced to 82 months in prison and 25-year-old Elizabeth Meredith was sentenced to a year and one day in prison. In addition to prison time, the court ordered the three defendants to pay a total of $613,969 in restitution to victims.

The three defendants pleaded guilty in August 2012 in connection with an immigration services fraud scheme while working at Immigration Forms and Publications (IFP) in Sedalia. Court officials said that company falsely represented itself to consumers saying that IFP was affiliated with the federal government and that the sales representatives were immigration agents. The defendants told immigrants that the fees paid to IFP covered government filing fees for immigration documents and that IFP could speed up application processing.

"This company exploited more than a thousand law-abiding immigrants by selling them government forms that anyone can obtain for free," said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Tammy Dickinson. "They preyed on legal immigrants who were doing their best to follow the law, and they are being held accountable for their fraud and deceit."

According to court documents, Strawbridge founded and owned IFP, which operated in 2009 and 2010. The IFP representatives falsely represented to consumers that IFP handled excess call volume for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The company also sold immigration forms, which are generally available at no charge from the government. The representatives falsely told consumers that the company employed paralegals who would help customers correctly fill out the immigration forms, and that forms purchased through IFP would be processed more quickly than if consumers dealt directly with USCIS.

The IFP representatives also falsely told consumers that fees paid to IFP included government processing fees. However, the IFP employees concealed the fact that the government routinely charged processing fees that IFP customers would be required to pay in addition to IFP charges. They also concealed that a high percentage of IFP customers had complained to the company and requested refunds when they discovered that payments to IFP did not include government processing fees and that IFP sales representatives had no particular expertise in immigration matters.