An Elk Grove man indicted for a scheme in which he allegedly preyed on undocumented immigrants appeared in federal court today.
The U.S. Attorney’s office says Helaman Hansen promised citizenship to undocumented adults, claiming they could be adopted by American citizens, which is patently false.
That promise of citizenship lured hundreds of unsuspecting, undocumented immigrants to Hansen.
"These guys, they promised a lot. They don't care about us,” said Gabby Hernandez who, with her husband, paid $9,000 to Americans Helping America, Hansen's organization, only to realize one year later she was scammed.
"When I talked to Mr. Hansen, he said, not only are we going to give you U.S. citizenship, you'll have a better life. Your dreams come true, and it's not true,” Hernandez said.
Hansen pleaded not guilty in federal court Friday to 12 counts of mail and wire fraud and one conspiracy charge.
The U.S. Attorney’s office says Hansen's organization took money from close to 500 undocumented people, with false promises of citizenship, totaling more than $500,000.
Newalow Weekes, who worked with Hansen at Americans Helping America stayed silent following Hansen's court appearance.
A receptionist at their Sacramento office says despite the serious charges, employees were asked to return to work next week, they plan to stay open.
"I actually posed as a potential client myself,” said Santiago Avila Gomez, an attorney with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.
Avila Gomez had clients alert him to the scam, and he called Hansen pretending to look for citizenship.
"He essentially laid the groundwork for it, and made some outrageous claim. He said it would be about $5,000,” said Avila Gomez.
He reported the scam to the Attorney General’s office. Ultimately it would be the FBI who pulled the rug from under Hansen, and Americans Helping America.
The U.S. Attorney’s office requested that Hansen be held in federal custody on at least $200,000, claiming that he is a flight risk because of his Australian citizenship, his contacts in Figi whom he recently visited, and the fact that the alleged scheme could have potentially netted him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Hansen’s court appointed attorney argued her client is not a flight risk. The matter was not settled Friday, and will instead be settled in a separate detention hearing Wednesday in Federal Court.
The U.S. Attorney also recommended Hansen not have contact with former clients, the undocumented immigrants whom he allegedly scammed, because the office says he threatened a number of them following the FBI’s raid of Hansen’s office, claiming he would turn many of them into Immigration Customs Enforcement.
If ultimately convicted, Hansen could end up being forced to pay $250,000 in fined and serve up to 20 years in prison.