An Indianapolis immigration attorney has pleaded guilty to filing false visa applications for more than 250 clients and collecting $750,000 in fraudulent fees.
Joel Paul, 45, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count each of mail fraud, immigration document fraud and aggravated identity theft. The pleas took place before Chief Judge Jane E. Magnus-Stinson of the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis.
Paul lives in Fishers and worked for one or more law firms in the Indianapolis area between 2013 and March 2017, according to court documents.
According to charges filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the case involves an immigration benefit known as the U visa. U visas can be granted to certain crime victims who help authorities in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
In July 2013, the court papers say, Paul helped 13 clients secure legitimate U visa credentials. He then used paperwork from those cases to submit fraudulent U visa applications on behalf of more than 250 other clients. Paul charged those clients about $3,000 per application. The Department of Justice said the victims weren't aware that Paul was acting illegally.
“Paul also knew, as his scheme stretched over the course of several years, that CIS (the Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Services) was denying the fraudulent applications he was filing, but he continued to collect fees from clients, represent to them that they would get visas from CIS as a result of his legal assistance, and file fraudulent applications,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in the court filing.
Sentencing for Paul is expected to take place early next year.
According to the plea agreement, the mail fraud charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, a $25,000 fine and three years of supervised release. The immigration document fraud charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, a $25,000 fine and three years of supervised release. The aggravated identity theft charge is punishable with up to two years in prison, which must be served consecutive to any other sentence.
The judge also can order Paul to pay restitution to his victims, the plea agreement says.
The Department of Justice said it continues to look for more victims in Paul’s scheme.
According to the Connecticut Roll of Attorneys, Paul was reprimanded in 2011 and ordered to take three hours of continuing legal education ethics instruction within six months. He complied with that requirement, according to his professional record in Connecticut.
However, the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee in its resolution of the complaint against him noted Paul “further agrees to seek admission to the Indiana Bar.” It’s unclear, though, whether Paul ever sought admission to the Indiana Bar. His name does not appear on the Indiana Roll of Attorneys.
Paul was, however, admitted to practice in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana in 2004, where his license status on Friday remained active.
The agreed resolution of the Connecticut attorney discipline case against Paul based on a 2010 grievance does not include details of the complaint lodged against him. Paul acknowledged in the agreed resolution that in that case he violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2 concerning the scope of representation and allocation of authority between a client and lawyer, and Rule 1.4 concerning a lawyer’s duty to communicate with a client.