Criminal Justice


The former chief counsel for the Seattle office of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has pleaded guilty to stealing the identities of immigrants who came through his office, the Seattle Times reported Thursday.

Raphael Sanchez, 44, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in Western Washington federal court. His sentencing is set for May 11, a Justice Department press release says; the prosecution and defense have jointly recommended a four-year sentence.

Sanchez, ICE’s top attorney for Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, admitted to using the identities of eight people to steal at least $190,000 from lenders. The federal government filed a five-page factual basis for plea that says Sanchez used the ICE database to find immigrants whose identities he could use. He then used their identities to forge utility bills and Washington driver’s licenses, using his own picture for the male immigrants and a newspaper picture of a murder victim for the women.

Using that identification, Sanchez opened credit cards and paid shell companies in cash or took out loans in the immigrants’ names. He also claimed three of them as dependents on his taxes for 2014 through 2016. Some were in deportation at the time or not in the United States, the DOJ document says, making it harder for them to discover the fraud. About 20 other immigrants’ identifying information was found at Sanchez’s home.

The Seattle Times says Sanchez is the second ICE attorney in Seattle who’s been criminally charged in recent years. In 2016, Seattle office assistant chief counsel Jonathan Love pleaded guilty to forging a document to make it look as if a Mexican national was not eligible to stay in the United States.

As the Seattle Times reported at the time, the Board of Immigration Appeals eventually realized that the forged form, and the agencies it referred to, did not exist at the time the victim had supposedly signed it. The victim was granted a green card; Love served 30 days in prison.