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Pasco woman gets four years in prison for swindling immigrants

Erika Paola Intriago had pleaded guilty last October to posing as an immigration attorney and taking $61,000 from more than 50 people in Tampa and Chicago.
Sam M. Gibbons federal courthouse in downtown Tampa. [Times photo]
Sam M. Gibbons federal courthouse in downtown Tampa. [Times photo]
Published Feb. 6, 2020
Updated Feb. 6, 2020

TAMPA — A Wesley Chapel woman has been sentenced to four years in federal prison for a fraud in which she took money to represent more than 50 people seeking legal immigration status in the United States.

Erika Paola Intriago, 45, portrayed herself as an immigration attorney, but was not licensed and did not help the people who paid her. She pleaded guilty to wire fraud last October.

“Her illegal scheme tried to undermine the integrity of our nation’s legal immigration system while preying on victims who were vulnerable and trying to navigate a path to citizenship,” Michael Cochran, Tampa assistant special agent in charge for investigations at the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement after the sentencing.

Related: Tampa Bay area woman pleads guilty to posing an immigration attorney

Paola — also known as Erika Paola Tepan, Erika Paola Varas and Erika Paola Caraballo — was ordered to serve 36 months of supervised release and to pay $61,000 in restitution to a total of 55 victims in Tampa and Chicago.

Using social media, she targeted Spanish-speaking immigrants and their families, authorities said. She took their money and sent them phony correspondence about the status of their cases, some of which she never filed and others that were already denied. She told victims who complained that she would report them to immigration authorities and have them deported.

In court Wednesday, Intriago’s defense attorney noted that she had no prior record, was committed to repaying all of the restitution, had health concerns and had a child in school, so she hoped to start her sentence after the school year ended. U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew set her prison term to start June 1.

“Ms. Intriago has no prior record, she feels terrible about everything that happened, and she’s going to pay back every penny of restitution she owes,” her attorney, Shelton Bridges of Tampa, said after the hearing. “This is a very difficult day for her, and she regrets everything she did, but all she can do now is move forward.”

Related: 'Falsa' abogada de inmigración enfrenta cargos en Tampa y Chicago