US Court of appeal overturns part of conviction that sent Tongan fraudster to jail for 20 years over immigration scam.
Tongan conman Helaman Hansen, sentenced to 20 year in jail for defrauding migrants in the United States, has had part of his conviction overturned.
The US Court of Appeal set aside two counts of encouraging or inducing an alien to reside in the United States for private financial gain.
The Appeals court said a law penalising anybody who encouraged or induced illegal immigration was too broad, because it covered a substantial amount of speech protected by the First Amendment.
Following the Court of appeal’s ruling, Hansen has been remanded to the District Court for re-sentencing.
Californian resident Hansen, 65, was sent to two decades imprisonment in 2017 and ordered to pay US$576,264 in restitution.
During the trial he was found guilty of encouraging two immigrants to illegally overstay their visas. It was this part of the conviction that was set aside by the Court of Appeal last Wednesday.
Between October 2012 and January 2016, Hansen and others used various entities such as Americans Helping America (AHA) to sell memberships in what he claimed was a migration programme based on the fraudulent claim that immigrant adults could achieve U.S. citizenship by being legally adopted by an American citizen and completing a list of additional tasks.
At first, memberships in the programme were sold for an annual fee of US$150, but fee grew and eventually was as high as US$10,000.
On May 9, 2017, after an 11-day trial, a federal jury found Hansen guilty of 12 counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, and two counts of encouraging and inducing illegal immigration for private financial gain.
U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert said the sentence recognised the vast number of people victimised by Hansen.
“He preyed upon hundreds of people who wanted to find a pathway to American citizenship and exploited their hopes and dreams for his own financial gain,” Talbert said.
“The defendant’s lies and false promises caused many to part with substantial amounts of money, and in some instances, a lifetime’s worth of savings.”
Legitimate pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants existed, but adult adoption was not one of them.
Hansen knowingly accepted funds for adult adoption processes despite being informed that such would not aid his victims with obtaining citizenship.
Although some victims completed the adoption stage of the fraudulent scheme not one obtained citizenship. As early as October 2012, Hansen was told by US Citizenship and Immigration Services that aliens adopted after their 16th birthday could not obtain citizenship in the manner Hansen was promoting.
Despite this notification, Hansen and others acting at his direction induced about 500 victims to pay more than US$1 million to join the fraudulent program.
As Kaniva News reported in 2016 Hansen and his wife Viola, also known as Sela Hansen, were at the centre of the FBI investigation that led him to trial.
After the investigation was made public, Tongans came forward and claimed they spent thousands of dollars after they were promised they would get US citizenship .
They told Kaniva News they had been failed by their own people.
Some in the Tongan-Sacramento community said Tongans had been repeatedly warned to be careful about the services provided by the Americans Helping Americans, saying they were wasting their money on it, but most ignored the warning.