Tennessee Woman Receives Maximum Sentence For Conning Illegal Immigrants

A Tennessee woman was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison after she was found guilty of scamming illegal immigrants and the Social Security Administration, among a series of other financial frauds, according to The Knoxville News Sentinel.

Debra Gouge, 53, reportedly posed as an immigration specialist in her East Tennessee community and charged $3,000 to illegal immigrants seeking either citizenship or a work visa. The newspaper said Gouge hired Jawad Lashin, an immigrant himself from Israel, to act as her bodyguard and even threaten her immigrant clients with deportation if they complained about her practices.

Gouge had previously set up a green card marriage and then divorce to allow Lashin, her former brother-in-law, to stay in the US. Lashin was sentenced to 27 months in prison for conspiring with Gouge and acting as her “bodyguard,” after which he will reportedly be deported back to Israel.

Although Gouge’s attorney argued that his client deserved a lighter prison sentence due to multiple medical ailments she allegedly suffers from, a federal judge rejected the argument, the news source reports.

The federal government recently set up a multi-agency initiative to combat immigration services scams, such as the unauthorized practice of immigration law by individuals who are not qualified to do so, according to US Immigration and Custom Services. The initiative also aims to educate immigrants about such scams and show them how to find legitimate legal advice and representation.