Texas Man Jailed For Tribal Membership Sales To Immigrants
By Andrew Westney
Law360, Dallas (October 11, 2016, 6:04 PM EDT) — A Texas district judge handed down a 33-month jail sentence Tuesday to the purported chief of a non-federally recognized Native American tribe who pled guilty last year to selling membership in the tribe as part of a scheme to defraud undocumented immigrants.
Humberto Reveles of Waco, Texas, who represented himself to be the chief of the Yamassee Nation, pled guilty in March 2015 to charges of selling membership in the tribe. Maria Isabel Lerma, of Brownsville, Texas, pled guilty in June 2015 in the scheme, in which the pair claimed that tribal identification documents would allow prospective tribe members to live and work in the country legally, despite their undocumented status.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen sentenced the 61-year-old Reveles, who formerly lived in Brownsville, to 33 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. The judge also ordered Reveles to pay nearly $200,000 to 144 victims of the fraud.
According to a U.S. Department of Justice statement Tuesday, Judge Hanen said when handing down the sentence that the pair’s scheme was as bad as smuggling undocumented immigrants past a checkpoint.
Reveles ran an office and held informational meetings with prospective tribe members from around October 2013 through October 2014, according to a DOJ statement last June. Reveles would hand over tribal naturalization certificates, identification cards and driver’s licenses in exchange for money, and Lerma was hired as a secretary and assisted Reveles with the scheme, the DOJ said at the time.
The certificates and cards used in the plot were sent through the U.S. Postal Service and FedEx and included a U.S. State Department authorization number, according to the DOJ. However, that number was assigned to a document from the state of Georgia and had no connection to the Yamassee Nation, a non-federally recognized tribe based in South Carolina.
Federal prosecutors filed a 12-count indictment in October 2014 alleging that Reveles and Lerma conspired to commit mail fraud and possessed five or more false identification documents. Reveles was also indicted on charges of fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents and for impersonating a diplomat on two occasions.
Reveles must pay victims of the scheme $198,795, starting with a lump sum payment of a little over $6,600, followed by monthly payments in the same amount for 29 months. He was also ordered to complete 100 hours of community service within his first two years of supervised release.
Reveles was permitted to remain out on bond and voluntarily surrender in December.
Lerma’s sentencing was continued Tuesday until Nov. 16.
Representatives for Reveles and Lerma were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Reveles is represented by David Patrick Willis III.
Lerma is represented by Patricia Garza Burruss.
The U.S. is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph T. Leonard.
The case is USA v. Reveles et al., case number 1:14-cr-00865, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
— Editing by Ben Guilfoy.