ICE lawyer in Seattle gets 4 years for stealing immigrant IDs

“I created an intricate, beautiful, yet soul-less house of cards that suddenly came crashing down.”

By Gene Johnson / Associated Press

SEATTLE — A former chief counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison for stealing the identities of people facing deportation and using them to run up bills totaling $190,000.

Raphael Sanchez, 44, resigned when he was charged in the four-year scheme in February. He had overseen deportation proceedings in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington since 2011 as the agency’s top lawyer in the region.

“Sanchez was entrusted with significant authority to represent the United States in crucial immigration proceedings that deeply shaped the lives of many,” attorneys Luke Cass and Jessica Harvey, of the Justice Department’s public integrity section, wrote in a sentencing memo to the court. “Sanchez abandoned the principles he swore to uphold and used his authority merely as a vehicle for personal profit.”

As part of a deal in which Sanchez pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, prosecutors and Sanchez’s attorney, Cassandra Stamm, agreed to recommend a four-year prison term.

U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik accepted that recommendation, noting the “shocking exploitation” Sanchez committed and the speed with which he accepted responsibility, volunteering to begin serving his time even before he was sentenced.

Stamm blamed the crimes on her client’s self-destructive tendencies, such as dangerously abusing sleeping pills, which she suggested stem from his “horrific history of childhood trauma” that included being brought up by a violent, alcoholic father.

He “made choices that sabotaged everything good in his life,” she said, and stole money he didn’t really need to buy things he didn’t really want.

Tracy Short, ICE’s principal legal adviser, said in a written statement that the agency’s employees are held to the highest standards of professional conduct.

“Individuals who violate the public’s trust will face consequences for their actions, as Mr. Sanchez did in this case,” Short said. “Corruption will not be tolerated.”

In an interview with court officials prior to his sentencing, Sanchez, who was due to make $162,000 this year, said he struggled with money troubles, depression, fatigue and a failed relationship before launching into his scheme.

“It became a perfect storm that did not allow me to see the hurtfulness and wrongfulness of my actions,” he said. “I pretended I needed no one and thought material things would bring me happiness, even if temporarily. I created an intricate, beautiful, yet soul-less house of cards that suddenly came crashing down.”

He apologized for his crimes in court Thursday and told the judge he’s relieved to be in custody: “The stress is gone,” he said.

Sanchez’s scheme ran from late 2013 to late last year. He took personal information about at least seven people who had been or could be deported from immigration files and then forged identification documents, such as Social Security cards and driver’s licenses, in their names. Sometimes, he used a picture of a murder victim that had appeared in a newspaper as an identification photo.

He used the forged IDs to obtain lines of credit and credit-monitoring services to determine which of his victims had the best credit. He also listed three victims as dependents on his income tax returns.

The victims’ status as deportable — or in some cases having already left the country — made it less likely they’d discover and report the fraud, prosecutors said.

Before moving to Seattle, Sanchez worked with an ICE unit tasked with tracking down human rights violators and war criminals, Stamm said.

He was involved in the 2010 deportation of Juan Miguel Mendez, who was wanted for torture, disappearances and killings from 1976 to 1979 during Argentina’s “dirty war.”

Sanchez is the second lawyer in ICE’s Seattle office to run into legal trouble in recent years. Jonathan Love pleaded guilty in 2016 to a charge that he forged documents in an effort to deprive an immigrant of the legal permanent resident status to which he was entitled.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

FILE - In this May 15, 2019 file photo, the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River is seen from the air near Colfax, Wash. Environmental groups are vowing to continue their fight to remove four dams on the Snake River in Washington state they say are killing salmon that are a key food source for endangered killer whales. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Study looks at impact of ocean and dams on salmon runs

Fish recovery efforts should focus on the ocean, not on freshwater, says the BPA-funded scientist.

A lone man walks a dog, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, near apartments in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday, March 23, 2020, ordered nonessential businesses to close and the state's more than 7 million residents to stay home in efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle rents down 20% since start of COVID-19 pandemic

Median rents in Seattle were $1,395 for a one-bedroom and $1,739 for a two-bedroom.

In this image taken Jan. 16, 2013, two people walk the beach at Discovery Park in Seattle. At 534 acres, Discovery Park is the largest park in the city and it features seaside bluffs, views of the Puget Sound, trails, a light house and a beach.  (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes )
Operating error sends wastewater into Puget Sound

The public is advised to avoid contact with the water at Discovery Park, which is near the sewage spill.

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman talks to reporters in her office, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Wyman was talking about a series of election- and ballot-security bills her office is asking the Washington Legislature to consider during the current session. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington secretary of state certifies election results

Joe Biden will receive the state’s 12 electoral votes at the Electoral College on Dec. 14.

Visitors view photos of people who were killed by police in Washington State and elsewhere, Tuesday, June 16, 2020, inside what has been named the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone in Seattle. Police have pulled back from a part of the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood near the department's East Precinct after recent clashes with people protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Lawmakers, activists set ambitious agenda for police reform

The bills being drafted represent a broad overhaul of policing and police accountability in Washington.

This series of screenshots taken from an iPhone with COVID-19 exposure notifications turned on for Washington state shows some of the information presented to iPhone users who are considering opting in to a new statewide coronavirus exposure notification program that was launched Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Washington state that uses smartphone technology in the ongoing effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. People with Apple iPhones can now enable the 'exposure notifications' feature that is already in their phone's settings, and Android devices can download the app, called Washington Exposure Notifications. Use of the service is voluntary and users can opt out at any time. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington launches statewide COVID-19 notification app

Modeling predicted significant decreases in infections and deaths if at least 15% of people use the app.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at Rideau Cottage during the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canada: US border measures to last until virus under control

About 400,000 people crossed the world’s longest international border each day before the pandemic.

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2019 file photo Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, looks on as Suzi LeVine, right, the state's Employment Security Department Commissioner, talks to reporters at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. The state of Washington is calling in the National Guard to help process unemployment benefit claims as officials grapple with a backlog caused in part by a fraud ring that stole more than half a billion dollars in aid, officials said Thursday, June 11, 2020. LeVine said that Gov. Jay Inslee approved the deployment of troops who will start assisting her team next week as it tries to reduce the unemployment claim backlog.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren,File)
Washington state auditor warns unemployment agency on audits

She’s accused of hindering a probe regarding the theft of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Prosecutors: Hate crimes on the rise in King County

Two years ago, there were 30 hate crimes in King County. So far in 2020, the number is up to 51.

Most Read