ELIZABETH — A former Salvation Army pastor and his wife were found guilty last week of multiple theft by deception charges, according to First Assistant Union County Prosecutor Albert Cernadas, Jr.
Former Pastor Enoc “Tito” Sotelo, 51, was found guilty of 17 counts of third degree theft by deception and one count of conspiracy to commit theft by deception. His wife, Vereli Sotelo, 37, was found guilty of six counts of third degree conspiracy to commit theft by deception, said Assistant Prosecutor Ann Rubin who prosecuted the case along with Assistant Prosecutor Joshua McMahon.
The verdicts came after a five-week trial before Union County Superior Court Judge Joseph Perfilio and day and a half of deliberation by the jury. The couple was remanded to the custody of the Union County Jail.
According to the investigation, Sotelo was 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 Rubin.
Sotelo told each of the victims that he was working with an attorney named Oscar Ruiz and collected roughly $4,000 from each. The investigation revealed that Sotelo told the victims that $500 from each payment would go to the Salvation Army, something that never occurred nor was authorized by the charity, said Rubin. None of the victims, however, received their green cards.
Sotelo collected the money between December 2004 and February 2006.
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.
Ruiz pled guilty to third degree conspiracy to commit theft by deception days before the Sotelo trial was to begin. Ruiz will be sentenced to six years in New Jersey state prison consecutive to a separate sentence he is currently serving in Florida on a separate immigration fraud charge.
The fraud was first uncovered when a number of victims complained to Flor Gonzalez, a local community activist, who reported the fraud to the Plainfield Police Department.
Enoc Sotelo faces up to 90 years in prison when sentenced on April 29. Vereli Sotelo faces up to 30 years when she is sentenced on the same day.
Cernadas commended Detective Johnny Ho for his diligent work on the case.
Officials for the office of Fraud Detection in the Department of Homeland Security and the Texas Service Center realized the threat posed by Oscar Ruiz and the Sotelos and actively sought to cooperate with the Prosecutor’s Office by providing the immigration files on the victims and the defendants.
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