White-Collar Crime

Immigration lawyer convicted of helping clients concoct tales of persecution

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A suburban Chicago immigration lawyer was criminally convicted of four perjury and immigration fraud charges by a federal court jury Monday, but was acquitted on a fifth fraud count.

Robert DeKelaita, 53, helped immigrants make false claims of oppression and persecution on documents submitted to the Citizenship and Immigration Service division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to the Chicago Tribune (reg. req.) and the Glenview Patch.

After a three-week trial in a Chicago courtroom packed with DeKelaita’s family and friends, it took the jury about eight hours to reach verdict.

Prosecutors said DeKelaita helped immigrants, a number of whom said they were Christians from Iraq, make up stories for American authorities that included false names, family histories, entry dates into the U.S. and tales of persecution, then coached them to lie to the feds, the Tribune reports.

In one case, a client known as S.H. said he had been beaten and tortured in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in 2000. “None of this is true,” the government contended last year in a court filing. “In fact, S.H. was in Germany when these events purportedly occurred.”

DeKelaita faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison when he is sentenced in August.

His interpreter, Adam Benjamin, 63, pleaded guilty last year to one fraud count and was sentenced to six months. Another interpreter charged in the case is awaiting trial.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Lawyer and interpreter are accused of embellishing asylum claims”

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