Los Angeles, California - A Porter Ranch man who allegedly posed as a federal immigration agent and promised detained aliens’ families he could secure their relatives’ release in return for sizeable payments will be arraigned Thursday on state theft and burglary charges stemming from a joint probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation.
Gregory J. Chavez, 51, was taken into custody Wednesday at his Porter Ranch residence and is being held on $1.2 million bond pending his arraignment in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Chavez is charged with 40 felony counts, including residential burglary, grand theft by false pretense and attempted grand theft by false pretense. The case is being prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office.
The probe targeting Chavez began in late 2012 after OPR received information from an ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations officer who reported that detainees at one of the agency’s contract detention facilities in Orange County were being defrauded by the defendant. The ensuing investigation identified more than two dozen individuals who claim Chavez approached them offering “confidential services.” During Wednesday’s enforcement action, OPR special agents searched the defendant’s residence where they recovered business cards bearing Chavez’s name embossed with a gold star inscribed with the words “special agent.”
Victims told investigators they paid Chavez initial deposits ranging from $800 to $15,000, often in cash, to gain release of their family members from ICE detention. The releases never occurred and the victims were unable to recover their money from Chavez. Some of the victims borrowed money to make the payments. Others told OPR special agents they were defrauded out of their life savings. So far, investigators have accounted for more than $75,000 in losses due to the scam, but it is believed the actual figure may be higher.
“Those who seek to profit by preying on vulnerable members of the immigrant community can expect to pay a hefty price for their crimes,” said Steven Lovett, acting special agent in charge of ICE’s OPR, West Region. “We’re committed to safeguarding the public from scam artists and others who exploit people’s false hopes for no other reason than to enrich themselves.”
Investigators urge members of the public who have information that may be relevant to this ongoing investigation to contact ICE’s toll-free tip line – 1-866-DHS-2ICE – or use the agency’s online tip form.
ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility is focused on upholding the agency’s standards for integrity and professionalism. A key part of that mission involves investigating allegations of misconduct by ICE employees. It also includes pursuing cases related to fraud perpetrated by individuals impersonating ICE officers, such as the allegations in this case.