Fake fed agent gets 11 years
Update, 4:20 p.m.:
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Paul Weinstein sentenced Mejia to 11 years and five months in prison -- giving him the 10-year cap on the theft charges plus 17 months for a probation violation in another case.
Tooling around Montgomery County in his Italian sports car, Robert Fred Mejia presented himself as the picture of success.
In court Monday afternoon, prosecutors will lay out the audacious scam that helped him do so:
Mejia slipped into disguise and pretended to be federal immigration agent Jimmy Rico. He wore combat boots, a thigh-holster, and a shirt and hat bearing the letters "ICE," short for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He drove a different car, one that looked like a police cruiser.
Mejia/courtesy of Montgomery County Police
And for the right price, generally thousands of dollars, he offered citizenship and legalization papers to people who thought they were getting the real thing. As many as 396 people were duped.
At Monday's court hearing, dozens of the victims are expected to arrive in support of a stiff sentence for Mejia. It's not clear exactly how much he stole, but prosecutors say that from 2006 to 2009, he deposited $1.2 million into the bank while declaring annual incomes of no more than $37,000 on tax returns.
Mejia earlier pleaded guilty to theft charges, and faces up to 10 years in prison as part of an agreement with prosecutors. He also has pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of impersonating an immigration officer, and faces sentencing for that early next year.
A key partner of his scam, as laid out in police allegations, was 53-year-old Erlinda Marin, who ran a clinic from her home in Gaithersburg while holding herself out as a doctor.
That's where Mejia would show up to offer his services, complete with fingerprinting outside the cruiser, prosecutors say.
The scheme lasted well more than a year because victims were scared that if they stepped forward they'd be deported.
"It allowed this to continue again and again and again," said Montgomery's top prosecutor, John McCarthy.
Many of the victims undoubtedly had at least questionable immigration status. Prosecutors said they never asked them about their status, under the broader belief that without cooperation from all crime victims, the county ultimately would have more crime.
"If you pick and chose who you will protect, you create an atmosphere of criminal opportunity and lawlessness," McCarthy said.
Mejia has been locked up in the Montgomery jail since April.
"Long enough to do some thinking," his attorney Charles Lazar said Sunday. "He feels bad for these people. He feels bad for what he did."
Lazar hopes to secure a sentence of less than 10 years. "He's charismatic," Lazar said of his client. "He is a great salesman. He can sell you anything."
Also on Monday, the alleged fake doctor, Erlinda Marin, is scheduled to enter an "Alford Plea" to one count of a theft scheme and one count of practicing medicine without a license. Under such a plea, she will not necessarily admit guilt, but will be convicted, according to attorneys in the case. She faces up to five years in prison.
"We believe she was the less culpable party," said Marin's attorney, Terrence McGann.
A third person in the case, Marin's daughter Sandra Rivera, still faces theft charges. Her case has not been resolved.
Washington Post editors
| November 1, 2010; 4:20 PM ET
Categories: Dan Morse, From the Courthouse, Montgomery
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