A Ronkonkoma woman is facing felony charges after Nassau prosecutors said she posed as an immigration attorney and stole more than $30,000 from immigrants living in the country illegally who were looking for legal help.
Court records show Tania Gonzalez, 44, faces multiple grand larceny counts along with a scheme to defraud charge and was arraigned June 8. Her attorney, Kristin Galison, confirmed Monday that Gonzalez pleaded not guilty. She declined to comment further on the case.
Acting Nassau District Attorney Joyce Smith said in a statement Monday that Gonzalez "allegedly deceived hardworking immigrants by promising to help them on their path to obtaining U.S. residency."
Smith’s office said Gonzalez also has used the names Tania Ayala and Tania Gonzalez Renderos and could spend a maximum of 3½to 7 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
Prosecutors said the fraud took place between January 2016 and January 2020, when Gonzalez told victims they qualified for a 10-year visa if they had been in the United States for a decade — even if they had entered the country illegally. But authorities said no such visa exists.
The defendant asked for "a substantial down payment" from the victims, according to prosecutors. They said Gonzalez in many cases then filed fraudulent applications for asylum with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on the victims’ behalf without their knowledge.
After that, USCIS provided employment authorization documents to the victims, pending the agency’s action on the original asylum applications. Gonzalez allegedly used those documents to show the victims she was working to obtain the visas she promised, according to prosecutors.
But government officials said they learned after processing the applications for asylum that the applications had been filed without the victims’ knowledge. Smith’s office said prosecutors did a joint investigation with USCIS’ Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate.
Law enforcement officials said they suspect Gonzalez may have defrauded even more people and are asking anyone who may have been victimized to call the district attorney’s Office of Immigrant Affairs at 516-571-7756.