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Long IslandCrime

Woman arrested in scheme to defraud Latino immigrants, police say

An employee of a pro-bono legal services organization designed to help immigrants on Long Island has been arrested in connection with a scheme to defraud Latinos in the Town of Southampton, police said Wednesday.

Police said Maria Sanchez-Dios, 39, of Southampton, was arrested Tuesday at Southampton Town police headquarters after an eight-month investigation.

Police said in a news release Wednesday that Sanchez-Dios "would charge unsuspecting victims governmental fees" that were not required and did not provide additional legal services "victims believed would be rendered" after making those payments. Police said that when Sanchez-Dios' employer became aware of what was happening, company officials immediately contacted law enforcement.

Investigators said that organization, Immigration Legal Services of Long Island Inc. in Brentwood, was "instrumental" in uncovering the details of the scheme.

An attorney for Immigration Legal Services said Sanchez-Dios was an assistant who worked out of the organization's satellite office at the Incarnation Lutheran Church in Bridgehampton. That attorney, Carlos Piovanetti, said Sanchez-Dios began work in 2016 and worked until Nov. 30, 2018.

He said the organization discovered the alleged scheme when a client came in to pick up paperwork last Christmas Eve — and, during a conversation, mentioned a fee that had been paid. No fee had been required for the service, Piovanetti said.

Sanchez-Dios is an immigrant from Peru, Piovanetti said, and she is the daughter-in-law of organization board members.

"It's unfortunate for everyone involved," Piovanetti said.

Sanchez-Dios was charged with first-degree immigration assistance fraud, first-degree scheme to defraud, and third-degree grand larceny. She was held overnight and was scheduled for arraignment Wednesday in Southampton Town Justice Court.

It was not immediately clear if she was represented by counsel.

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