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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Couple indicted in alleged 4-year fraud scheme

U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow

By John McPhaul

A federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico issued an indictment Thursday against Fernando Gallardo Álvarez and his common-law partner Olga Rivera Dávila for alleged conspiracy to commit mail, wire, and bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering violations related to funds fraudulently obtained from Unemployment Insurance (UI) and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow announced.

The case was investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Postal Inspector Service, the Puerto Rico Department of Labor and the Puerto Rico Police Bureau.

According to the indictment, Fernando Gallardo Álvarez and Olga Rivera Dávila devised a conspiracy and plan to defraud the Puerto Rico and federal unemployment insurance programs and financial institutions in the United States and Puerto Rico to obtain money for personal benefit, making materially false and fraudulent statements to obtain and deposit UI/PUA funds.

The defendants used the Social Security numbers and names of others to fraudulently obtain UI/PUA funds and then proceeded to alter the fraudulently obtained checks to include the defendant’s own names and personally identifiable information.

The forged checks were then deposited into multiple accounts under the control of the defendants. The defendants also concealed the proceeds of the fraud scheme and structured subsequent financial transactions.

In a separate indictment, Gallardo Alvarez is accused of fraudulently submitting false immigration documentation, mail fraud, misuse of Social Security numbers, and aggravated identity theft.

From approximately 2017 through August 2021, Gallardo Alvarez illegally enriched himself and obtained money from individuals by preparing and filing Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) petitions with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that contained false information using Form I-360 and attached forms for work authorization and fee waivers. Form I-360 is used by battered spouses, children and parents to file an immigrant visa petition under the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended by VAWA.

According to the indictment, Gallardo Álvarez made false statements to non-citizens that he was an attorney and collected thousands of dollars for legal services to help them resolve their immigration status. After collecting the payment, Gallardo Álvarez would file VAWA petitions containing false and incomplete information without the knowledge and consent of the petitioners. Gallardo Álvarez knew that the petitions he submitted to USCIS contained false information and that he was unable to provide the necessary documentation for USCIS to adjudicate the petitions submitted.

When USCIS did not receive enough information to fully adjudicate a VAWA petition using the Form I-360 filed by the respondent, USCIS asked Gallardo Álvarez for more information before ultimately denying the VAWA petition. While the VAWA petition was pending, USCIS would make a preliminary determination regarding eligibility for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card), i.e., work authorization.

The EAD cards obtained by Gallardo Álvarez for his clients were only valid for one year and many petitioners returned to him before the year was out to refile petitions. Gallardo Álvarez would charge the petitioners thousands of dollars to file Form I-360 and associated immigration applications.

USCIS records suggest Gallardo Alvarez has filed at least 136 fraudulent I-360 VAWA applications for more than 100 petitioners in the past four years.

If convicted in the PUA fraud case, the defendants face up to 30 years in prison for bank fraud, 20 years for mail and wire fraud, and a mandatory two-year consecutive term in prison for aggravated identity theft.

In the immigration fraud case, Gallardo Álvarez also faces up to 20 years in prison for mail fraud, up to 10 years for visa misuse, up to five years for Social Security number misuse, and a mandatory prison term of two consecutive years for robbery.

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