Raphael Sanchez stole the identities of at least seven would-be immigrants and used them to create fake identification documents submitted to banks and credit-card companies to open accounts.

Share story

The former chief attorney for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Seattle was sentenced Thursday to four years in federal prison for stealing the identities of people his office was trying to deport or exclude from the U.S. and using the information to defraud banks and credit-card companies.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik also ordered him to pay $190,000 in restitution immediately.

Defense attorneys for Raphael Sanchez, 44, and prosecutors from the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C., had agreed to recommend the four-year sentence after Sanchez pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The fraud charge carried a maximum prison term of up to 30 years. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by a mandatory two-year prison term. Sanchez also agreed to surrender his license to practice law.

Sanchez was apologetic Thursday and said he’s lost everything — and is glad for it because it has forced him to confront his past. He has been in custody since he was charged and pleaded guilty in February.

Sanchez, in olive jail garb, told the judge and prosecutors that he was “sorry you’re put in this position” and said he’s determined to use the time in prison to better himself so he can help people when he gets out. His attorney, Cassandra Stamm, said he has shown proficiency in automotive engineering, and Sanchez said he’d like to teach English in a foreign country.

“The career that was my life is gone,” Sanchez told U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik.  However, he said, he does not regret it. Gone too, Sanchez said, were debilitating headaches and other ailments that had plagued him before he confessed.

Aside from the length of the sentence, the prosecution, defense and Lasnik all agreed on another point, apparently supported by a psychological report and letter Sanchez wrote to the court that were sealed from public view, but referenced during Thursday’s hearing: Sanchez was so filled with self-loathing and guilt that he either wanted to get caught, or was so bent on sabotaging his life that he just didn’t care.

Stamm told the court that Sanchez was making a six-figure salary and didn’t need the money he stole or the goods he had shipped to his house. Much of it was found still in boxes in his garage, she said.

He was not driven by greed she said, as much as he was by self-hatred and trauma from a brutal upbringing in which he curried favor with his alcoholic father through school and accomplishment to avoid the regular beatings delivered to his mother and siblings, according to Stamm and court documents.

“The ‘why’ is not avarice or cunning,” Stamm said. “It’s his horrible history.”

While prosecutors acknowledge Sanchez’s difficult childhood and credit him for taking responsibility for his crimes, Department of Justice (DOJ) trial attorney Jessica Harvey from the Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C., argued that Sanchez’s actions amounted to a “profane and profound violation of the trust of the American public,” exploiting some of the most vulnerable people in society “to line his pockets.”

Most of the victims, she said, were about to be deported and would never have a chance to report, let alone repair, the fraud.

The sentence comes at a time when ICE as an agency has come under intense scrutiny — including calls for it to be disbanded — for its role in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy at the southern U.S. border, where children have been separated from their parents after being arrested by ICE agents for entering the country. Public outcry and political blowback from the decision forced President Trump to end the practice last week.

Sanchez, who was in charge of providing counsel to ICE agents and responsible for removal and asylum hearings in four Western states, stole the identities of at least seven would-be immigrants and used them to create fake identification documents submitted to banks and credit-card companies to open accounts. Over several years — all while he was a lawyer for ICE and the Department of Homeland Security — he stole more than $190,000, according to the plea agreement and court documents.

In sentencing documents, the Justice Department said Sanchez “betrayed his position of public trust to prey on our nation’s immigrants and line his pockets with the credit of some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

The defense relied heavily on the findings of a psychologist whose report was sealed because it contained sensitive medical information. It was referenced several times during the hearing as evidence that Sanchez’s brutal upbringing played a role in the immolation of his career. Stamm pointed out that Sanchez was using his ICE email to commit the fraud — an act that would almost certainly lead to his discovery.

“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.”

According to the Department of Justice 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 slain woman published in the media 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 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.

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.