Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Dolan ruled yesterday that 58-year-old Christine Owad of Greene County, NY, must pay a restitution order of $198,000 to 55 individuals who paid for her phony immigration services.
In addition, Judge Dolan fined Owad $105,000 for her fraudulent acts and ordered her to pay the State $2,000 in costs.
“It’s a good day for those concerned about protecting immigrants and making sure that scam artists like Christine Owad don’t take advantage of them,” Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said, speaking to the Echo following yesterday’s judgment.
“She preyed upon peoples’ desires to make better lives for themselves. It has been a long battle, but today’s judgment achieved a measure of justice for her victims. We’re trying to publicize this judgment to make people more aware. There is nothing to stop people like Christine Owad from going out and doing this again.”
The court will permit additional claims until December 15. The Attorney General’s office estimates that Owad scammed more than 100 people based on records they obtained from her in November.
“Really, it’s a question of ensuring that people have confidence in us so that they will come forward in the knowledge that we are working for them and are not trying to put them in jeopardy, and we succeeded in doing that in this case,” Spitzer said.
When contacted by the Echo, Owad’s attorney, Allen Morgenstern said: “I do not have any authority from her [Owad] to comment on this matter.”
The Attorney General’s office sued Owad and shut down her immigration business last November after an investigation revealed that she had posed as an immigration consultant with paralegal experience, promising dozens of undocumented Irish immigrants that she would obtain green cards for them by exploiting loopholes in immigration laws. A number of people in the Ukrainian community also paid Owad to get them green cards.
Collecting fees of between $2,000 and $4,000 from each individual, Owad filed fraudulent green card applications on their behalf. A number of people mistakenly thought their application had been successful when they were called for a routine procedure that involves photographing and taking biometric information in the form of a fingerprint from each green card applicant. In so doing, they inadvertently risked exposing their undocumented status to U.S. immigration authorities.
They later received letters stating that there was not basis for their applications.
The Attorney General’s office also filed a contempt order to prevent Owad from transferring her $500,000 farmhouse in upstate Greene County into her sister’s name, thus ensuring that she would have an asset to collect the final judgment against.
The Owad case was the first action in New York State involving the Immigration Assistance Services Law, which took effect in November 2004.
“These are the kinds of cases that validate the purpose of that law,” Spitzer said.
“There are two groups of people we hope will take note of this judgment. We hope that victims will be more cautious and aware. We also want people like Christine Owad who prey upon vulnerable individuals to know that we will come after them.”
Individuals who believe they were defrauded by Owad can seek restitution until December 15 by calling the New York State Attorney General’s Consumer Helpline on 1-800-771-7755, or by logging on to the Office of the Attorney General’s web site at www.oag.state.ny.us.