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GIPD seeks suspect accused of scamming immigrants, stealing from businesses

A man rides his bike down Fourth Street in the heart of Grand Island's Latino business district (NTV News)

Immigrants trying to achieve a piece of the American dream instead lose tens of thousands of dollars, as Grand Island police investigate several fraud cases.

Police believe a 71-year-old woman scammed people out of $50,000 or more, and took off.

Police Capt. Dean Elliott said, “It appears this suspect has potentially fled, at least our jurisdiction, but from accounts of victims that this person has fled into Mexico.”

Police say it’s likely there are more victims, scared to come forward, because they’re undocumented and fear being deported.

Elliott said, “First time immigrants are hesitant to contact law enforcement, potentially because of where they're from law enforcement may or may not be a friend to them.”

Immigration attorney Ann Marie Waxman Lopez of Lutheran Family Services sees several red flags.

“This is fraud, this is illegal,” she said.

First, she says immigrants don’t see a wall full of diplomas – run. She says immigrants need to consult with licensed attorneys.

It’s not clear if the alleged scam artist filed any papers, but if she did, it could be a huge setback for families trying to achieve legal status.

Waxman Lopez said, “That's the first bite of the apple, perhaps, and they're preparing a case that's not to be filed and maybe they even had a good case, should have had a decent case, and instead their cases are being denied.”

According to Grand Island police, the woman may have targeted more than undocumented immigrants, also scamming a couple of businesses.

“There was another business where the female worked at where she was stealing products from the business and stole cash, and left a note, an IOU,” Capt. Elliott said.

In another case, Elliott said the woman was looking at two gold coins as a jewelry shop, and asked the shop owner if she could show them to a buyer outside. Police say the woman took off with $8,000 in gold coins.

Police say they’ll likely get federal help, with a suspect who may have left the country. If there are more victims, police encourage them to report it.

“If they have a crime, are a victim, we are here to help them,” Elliott said.

Waxman Lopez, the attorney, says a legitimate immigration service would not charge this amount of money, and would never deal in gold or jewelry as this suspect is alleged to have done.

Alleged cases:

  • $7000 - woman seeking help to become legal resident
  • $4880 in theft from a clothing shop around Fourth and Walnut in Grand Island
  • $5000 - woman gave gold in exchange for immigration services
  • $8000 - two gold coins stolen, when police say the woman took them out of a store to show a buyer waiting outside
  • $27800 - a family of five is alleged to have given the woman $5000 each for five people, plus money to help a family member in jail
  • $7000 from an undocumented immigrant trying to get help with papers
  • GIPD referred one case to Hastings Police, since the crime is alleged to have happened there
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