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Bronx Lawyer Arrested for Defrauding Immigrants and U.S. Government

Kofi Amankwaa endangered his clients by filing fraudulent documents claiming they were being abused by their children, according to the SDNY and NY Attorney General.

Federal authorities charged a Bronx attorney this week with carrying out a “large scale” immigration scheme to defraud the U.S. government through a law that can provide domestic violence victims lawful permanent residency, prosecutors allege. Kofi Amankwaa scammed hundreds of immigrants, and some were even deported, law enforcement authorities said. 

Amankwaa, 69, and his son, Kofi Amankwaa Jr., 37, filed false I-360 petitions, a provision of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that is, in part, designed to allow an undocumented immigrant parent of an abusive U.S. citizen child to self petition for a green card, prosecutors said. Allegations against Amankwaa were first reported by NBC 4 New York in April of 2023. But almost three months after these claims aired, Documented visited Amankwaa’s office and found it remained open in July of 2023. Clients were still seeking legal advice from Amankwaa.

Amankwaa, the attorney who practiced in the Bronx, exploited this legal process by submitting false declarations in the name of his clients, alleging that their children abused them, prosecutors said. Amankwaa and his son, who worked as a legal assistant in the office, knew that the children had not abused their parents, or did not even ask them if any abuse had occurred, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, who is prosecuting the case. Michael Alfonso, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Newark Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations, also assisted in the investigation.

Also Read: “Paying to Be Deported:” Immigration Attorney Leaves Numerous Undocumented Immigrants Exposed to ICE

From September of 2016, until present day, Amankwaa filed nearly 4,000 VAWA petitions, according to the complaint.

Amankwaa and Amankwaa Jr. were arrested on Monday, and each face one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and to commit immigration fraud, and one count of immigration fraud, the U.S. The Attorney’s Office said in a news release. The pair “sought to make a mockery of the U.S. immigration system,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.

Amankwaa’s attorney, Lauren Di Chiara, declined to comment.

In November, Amankwaa’s license to practice in New York was suspended after numerous complaints that he had submitted fraudulent immigration documents containing “false allegations,” according to the complaint from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

On Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Amankwaa and his son, along with three other workers in their office, also for tricking immigrants out of thousands of dollars and providing phony immigration assistance. The lawsuit is asking that Amankwaa and the other defendants pay restitution and damages to those affected, in addition to civil penalties to the state. 

“When these immigrants sought help from attorneys claiming to act in their best interests, they were taken advantage of and harmed instead.” Attorney General James said in a statement. “This cruel and illegal scheme led to them being separated from their families and deported.

In previous interviews with Documented, families who sought Amankwaa’s help said that he filed this paperwork without telling his clients the crux of the application he was submitting on their behalf, nor the dire consequences if the petition was denied: the possibility that a parent could be deported.The investigation by the state Attorney General concluded that Amankwaa “falsely” told clients that they would safely leave and re-enter the U.S., the office said.

Ricardo Velazquez, Jr., whose case was cited in the complaint from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, told Documented that Amankwaa said his father would be able to leave the country to Mexico, and then re-enter. But when his father, Ricardo Velazquez, Sr. returned to JFK Airport in March of 2023, immigration officials detained him — and later deported him. 

Immigration attorney Brad Glassman, who has been assisting many of the affected families, said that the government seemed “very thorough in their investigation.”

Olga Perez, whose parents were Amankwaa’s clients, found out years after first visiting the attorney’s office with her parents that she had been named an abuser in her parents’ immigration paperwork. The parents, who had lived undocumented in the U.S. for more than two decades and were seeking legal status, said they were promised work authorization and the ability to travel to and from their native country, Mexico. 

But the family said they had no idea that as part of the process, the attorney would submit false declarations in their name, in which they accused their daughter of abusing them, and once the petition was denied, it effectively put them on ICE’s radar. 

“Basically these parents are paying to be deported – and they don’t even know it,” Perez said in an interview last year.

Perez was relieved to hear that Amankwaa was being prosecuted, she said in a text message on Tuesday. “My family and I are very hopeful about hearing the news of Amankwaa finally being brought to justice,” Perez said. But she added that her family was aware of more people who may have been victims, but were “terrified” to come forward because of their circumstances. “We know there are definitely more victims who are scared to speak up.”

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