The federal government is seeking to seize 11 properties in Palm Beach County that were allegedly tied to a money laundering scheme.
Federal prosecutors allege Laura Luz Maria Torres operated businesses in which she sought to defraud the USCIS through the submission of at least 1,000 fraudulent asylum and work permit applications between 2012 and 2020.
Torres used the money from the scheme to buy properties she owned or controlled, according to federal prosecutors. The government is now seeking to seize 10 properties in West Palm Beach, including: 5211 Kim Court, 807 Belvedere Road, 1103 Green Pine Boulevard B-1, 3331 Lake Avenue, 1408 Parterre Drive, 621 Hudson Road, 716 Briggs Street, 911 Green Street, 732 Forest Hill Boulevard, and 4524 Gun Club Road Suite 103.
She also owned and controlled a property in Lake Worth at 1229 Creekside Drive, an affidavit shows.
According to the alleged scheme, undocumented immigrants came to Torres to apply for asylum. Torres would allegedly make up laws that they could apply for, but the immigrants were largely ineligible for asylum since they had been in the U.S. for over a year, according to prosecutors. Torres would tell the clients that she could get them work permits and ultimately legal status. Once the immigrant would pay the fee, Torres would submit an application to the USCIS.
She charged each person between $2,000 and $4,500 in fees to start the process, according to an affidavit. Torres allegedly made up fake narratives on their applications about persecution the clients faced in their home countries such as drug cartels invading their villages and forcing them to sell drugs.
Torres would use local addresses for the immigrants’ applications at properties that she personally owned or controlled, according to prosecutors. When she received the work permits from USCIS she allegedly would demand additional fees and tell the immigrants that they could be deported if they did not pay her more.
Torres has operated her businesses under a variety of names, including El Latino Multiservices, M&K Multiservices, L & L Document Services and AYE Services.
The federal government alleges fraudulent tax filings were filed in the names of the asylum seekers to the U.S. Treasury. The government alleges between 2015 and 2017 more than 202 U.S. Treasury checks, totaling $945,000 were issued, with most going to addresses owned or controlled by Torres.
Torres was arrested June 29 on charges of conspiracy to make false statements, conspiracy to launder money and identity theft. A call to Torres’ attorney was not immediately returned.
The South Florida Business Journal first reported the news.
South Florida is no stranger to money laundering. Federal prosecutors are currently seeking to seize a penthouse in a luxury condo tower in downtown Miami that allegedly was used by the Republic of the Congo’s president’s son to embezzle money.
In 2018, wealthy, politically connected Venezuelans allegedly laundered money out of the country’s state oil company and into assets throughout the world, including real estate assets in South Florida. The assets included a condo in the Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles Beach, a condo in Related Group’s Icon Brickell and two homes in Coral Gables’ Cocoplum neighborhood.