A former ICE chief lawyer in Seattle faces a federal judge Thursday for sentencing on charges that he victimized “particularly vulnerable” illegal or undocumented immigrants by stealing their identities, according to prosecutors.
Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys have agreed to recommend a four-year prison sentence for the former chief attorney for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Seattle for stealing the identities of immigrants to defraud banks and credit-card companies.
Raphael Sanchez “abused his position of public trust to prey on our nation’s immigrants,” according to documents filed by lawyers from the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section before his Thursday sentencing in U.S. District Court.
As the lead attorney responsible for providing ICE agents with legal counsel and overseeing deportation and asylum hearings in four states, the 44-year-old Sanchez “was entrusted with ensuring the honest enforcement” of the country’s immigration laws.
“But Sanchez betrayed that trust,” wrote the Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers in a memorandum submitted to U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik. “Over a period of years, he exploited numerous victim aliens, defrauded major financial institutions, and monetized his position of public trust.”
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Sanchez pleaded guilty in February to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in a deal in which prosecutors and his defense attorneys agreed to recommend a four-year sentence.
He’s been in custody since and has agreed to surrender his bar license, according to the court docket and filings.
The wire-fraud charge carries a maximum prison term of up to 30 years and a fine of up to $1 million. Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year sentence. Lasnik is not bound by the plea agreement.
The sentencing comes at a time ICE is at the center of the enforcement of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has seen thousands of children and their parents separated at the southern border
Sanchez’s defense attorney, Cassandra Stamm, disputes the government’s rendition of her client as a “cunning and devious man who sold his principles for profit” and — while acknowledging his guilt — offered his inability to deal with a “brutal upbringing” as mitigation.
“Like all men, Raphael Sanchez is far more than this, the worst thing he has ever done,” Stamm wrote in a sentencing memorandum. Her client survived “to build a life that could be viewed, at least from the outside looking in, as privileged, stable and significant.”
“Unfortunately,” she wrote, Sanchez “never acquired the tools necessary to surmount the crippling psychological deficits” he suffered after moving to New Jersey from Puerto Rico as a toddler and being brought up in a violent home where his mother and siblings endured routine beatings by an alcoholic father.
To survive and avoid beatings himself, Sanchez curried his father’s favor through academics and distanced himself from his emotions and surroundings. Sanchez survived a terrifying childhood, Stamm wrote, by “being quiet, avoiding conflict with his father and doing well in school.”
Sanchez graduated from Pennsylvania State University and its Dickerson Law School, where he wrote about issues “he cared about deeply: racial profiling, human rights and free speech.”
While ICE was under his supervision as chief counsel, his co-workers and local immigration attorneys praised his fairness and discretion in applying ICE’s enforcement authority.
“Raphael presented himself as the most aboveboard person that the office has ever had,” said Seattle immigration attorney Shannon Underwood.
All the while, according to prosecutors, Sanchez was using the identities of at least seven “particularly vulnerable” illegal or undocumented immigrants who were facing deportation or exclusion from the U.S. at the hands of his office.
According to the DOJ sentencing memo, Sanchez used government computers and equipment to create identification cards in the names of his victims but using his photograph. He used the photograph of a murdered woman published in the press on forged female identification documents, prosecutors said.
Armed with the IDs, Sanchez would open bank accounts and obtain credit cards in the victims’ names and stole more than $190,000 from at least six financial institutions.
Sanchez also lied to the Internal Revenue Service and claimed three of his victims as dependents to obtain deductions.
While using their names and other identifying information, Sanchez had a number of items shipped to his home in Seattle and listed an ICE cellphone on some applications, according to the documents.
Sanchez is the second Seattle-based ICE attorney to face legal trouble in recent years.
In April 2016, Jonathan Love, a former ICE prosecutor, was sentenced to 30 days in custody after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for forging a document to make it look like a Mexican citizen who wanted to stay in the U.S. was not eligible to do so. Love was an assistant chief counsel for ICE in Seattle before his resignation.