ELIZABETH – A former pastor for the Salvation Army in Plainfield was arrested Tuesday, after a Grand Jury indicted the man on 14 counts of theft by deception, said Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow.
Pastor Enoc Tito Sotelo, 50, of Kinston, N.C. is accused of promising immigrants that he would help them obtain green cards through a “Florida attorney” and collecting thousands of dollars from them purportedly to pay for travel to and from Florida and obtain the documents, said Romankow.
None of the victims, however, received their green cards, because none of them were actually qualified for National Interest Waivers, said Romankow.
Sotelo, who allegedly told each of the victims that he was working with an attorney named Oscar Ruiz, collected roughly $4,000 from each. An investigation revealed that Sotelo told the victims that $500 from each payment would go to the Salvation Army, something disputed by the organization, said Romankow.
The investigation also revealed that Ruiz was never an attorney and had been under a cease and desist order from the Florida Bar Association since 1999 barring him from performing any immigration related work for anyone, authorities said.
The alleged fraud was uncovered when a number of victims complained to local Hispanic community activists, who reported the fraud to police. Sotelo collected the money between June and December 2005. The Plainfield Police Department and the Union County Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation in April 2006, said Romankow.
The fraud detection unit of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security assisted in the investigation. The Salvation Army also cooperated in the investigation, said Romankow.
The Grand Jury indicted Sotelo last month and he surrendered to authorities in Elizabeth on Jan. 12. He posted $2,000 cash, 10 percent of his $20,000 bail, and was released. He also forfeited his passport. He is scheduled for a court appearance on Jan. 25 before Union County Superior Court Judge Stuart Peim.
If convicted on the charges he faces up to 70 years in prison.
This remains an active investigation and authorities urge anyone with information about the case to contact Det. Johnny Ho at 1-908-527-4551 or Det. Edwin Maldoanado of the Plainfield Police Department at 1-908-753-3047.
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