Criminal Justice

Lawyer and interpreter are accused of embellishing asylum claims

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A suburban Chicago lawyer and an interpreter who worked with him are accused in a federal indictment of making false claims of religious persecution and providing other phony information in a bid to win asylum for their clients.

Federal agents raided the Morton Grove, Illinois, offices of 51-year-old lawyer Robert DeKelaita on Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reports. DeKelaita, who lives in Glenview, is accused of submitting false information on behalf of a dozen clients between 2000 and 2011, including false names, false religions, and false dates of entry into the United States.

In some of the petitions, DeKelaita allegedly made false claims of religious persecution by extremists in Iraq, including false accounts of rape and murder. A press release and the indictment (PDF) detail the charges. The Daily Herald also has a story.

DeKelaita’s contract interpreter, 61-year-old Adam Benjamin of Skokie, is accused of helping asylum clients memorize false stories and of mistranslating answers to bolster clients’ cases during asylum interviews.

DeKelaita and Benjamin were each charged with conspiracy to commit immigration and naturalization fraud. DeKelaita was also charged with three counts each of immigration fraud and suborning perjury, while Benjamin was also charged with two counts each of immigration fraud and suborning perjury. Both pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

DeKelaita is an Iraqi-born Christian who was featured in a 2008 Los Angeles Times story for his efforts to help Iraqi Christians facing deportation. “I know their pain; I feel it,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “These are my people. I don’t even have to ask them what they’ve been through.”

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