Four arrested in immigration scam

By Erica Werner The Associated Press
Thursday March 28, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Immigrants who recited the Pledge of Allegiance, took a citizenship oath and answered questions about American history were victims of a scam that cost them as much as $25,000 each, federal agents said. 

Four people were arrested for the scheme that investigators say involved an elaborate fake naturalization ceremony complete with a person in a black robe posing as a judge. 

The “judge” didn’t even know the words to the Pledge of Allegiance, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in connection with the arrests. 

“It was quite an audacious scheme,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Cowan said. “I am not aware of any masquerade this extensive.” 

The alleged ringleader, Elzbieta Malgorzata Bugajska, is a native of Poland who masqueraded as an immigration consultant named Jerry Ann Mitchell. The real Jerry Ann Mitchell died as an infant in Texas in 1943, decades before Bugajska assumed her identity, authorities said. 

Bugajska, 50, of Los Angeles, was arrested Tuesday along with John Patrick Bradley, 56, of Los Angeles, Yolanda Miel Lubiano, 62, of Sun Valley and Lorena Velasquez Garcia, 39, of South Gate. 

All four were charged with one count of mail fraud. Bugajska and Bradley were charged with impersonating federal judges, Bugajska was charged with using a falsely obtained passport and Garcia was charged with accessing a government computer with intent to defraud. 

Bugajska was ordered held without bond Tuesday and Garcia and Lubiano were released on bonds of $25,000 and $20,000. A preliminary hearing was set for Bugajska for April 9, and for Garcia and Lubiano for April 15. A bond hearing for Bradley was pending. 

Lubiano’s public defender declined comment. Attorneys for Bugajska and Garcia did not immediately respond to phone messages. It was not immediately clear if Bradley had obtained an attorney. 

Bugajska allegedly sold genuine Social Security cards for $750 to immigrants who had been steered to her by associates, authorities said. Garcia, a 15-year employee of the Social Security Administration, allegedly provided the cards and shared in the profits. 

Bradley allegedly posed as a judge during at least one bogus ceremony, on Oct. 22, 2000, at Lubiano’s house. 

“Bradley ’swore-in’ the aliens as citizens, but while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance forgot the words and had to be assisted by an alien,” the affidavit says. 

The complaint alleges the ring defrauded at least 25 immigrants, including 14 who attended the bogus citizenship ceremony. Prosecutors believe there are many more victims, and the investigation is ongoing. 

Most of the victims were Koreans and Filipinos. Some of the Filipinos were allegedly lured by Lubiano, a native of the Philippines. 

“This is a scheme that preyed on the hopes of immigrants who wanted to become U.S. citizens,” Cowan said. 

Bugajska allegedly told people she was a former CIA agent and federal judge who was able to bypass the normal bureaucracy to naturalize people. The affidavit describes only one fake naturalization ceremony, but authorities said there was at least one other. 

John Medford, a retiree who has lived a floor below Bradley in a Los Angeles apartment building for about three years, said he was shocked to hear the news about his friendly neighbor. 

“I thought he was a wonderful guy,” Medford said. “I heard a story on the news ... the shocking story about the false citizenship, and I didn’t know that that was involved with our John.” 


Eds: Staff Writer Sandy Yang contributed to this report.