A former Manhattan lawyer plead guilty Monday in federal court to charges he conspired for 13 years to generate false documents in what investigators said was one of the largest immigration frauds ever uncovered.
Earl David, 48, a self-styled Torah scholar who had been living in Canada where he was arrested in October, faces up to eight years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines when he is sentenced in August.
David pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges before Manhattan federal Judge Naomi Buchwald and in doing so admitted he generated more than 100 false immigration documents through mail and wire fraud.
When the original indictment was unsealed last fall, federal prosecutors charged that David ran a multimillion dollar fraud that secured legal immigration status for more than 25,000 clients based on phone employment certifications.
Immigration experts and attorneys said that a number of legitimate clients of David were hurt in the scheme after his office allegedly falsified documents without their notice. Members of the Sebagh family of Roslyn Heights said they were among those victimized by David and for more than a year feared losing the ability to remain in the United States.
But last month the U.S. Immigration & Immigration services granted requests that allowed family members to stay and not return to Israel. Family patriarch Henri Sebagh, who had to go back to Israel, is expected to be able to return in October, his attorney said.
Sounding nervous and fidgeting as he spoke, David answered "I understand" and "yes, your honor" as Buchwald questioned him in court about his plea. David's wife and infant watched quietly as he entered his plea. David would have faced a maximum of 45 years in prison if he had gone to trial and lost.
Defense attorney Avraham Moskowitz tried to persuade Buchwald to release David on a $1.5 million bail package after five family members agreed to secure the bond. But after assistant U.S. attorney Dana Perry said in court that David was believed to have hidden some of the proceeds of his crime and was a flight risk now that he was convicted, Buchwald denied bail. Perry said that David had purchased a $500,000 home in Canada and had renovated it despite not showing any substantial means of support.
Moskowitz declined to comment outside court.
More than a dozen people were charged with helping David in his law operation, which authorities said he ran from Canada despite having left the United States in 2007 as the investigation heated up. A charge that David tried to launder funds through a bank account he set up to handle sales of a Torah treatise would be dropped under the plea bargain.