Enoc Tito Sotelo, 50, a former pastor who ran a church for the Salvation Army in Plainfield, New Jersey in the United States surrendered to authorities in Elizabeth today, a month after being indicted for defrauding immigrants of thousands of dollars with the false promise of green cards,
Sotelo now faces up to 70 years in prison, if convicted of 14 counts of theft by deception. The Peruvian native, who relocated from Plainfield to Kinston, N.C,, forfeited his U.S. passport and was released after posting $2,000 cash bail yesterday.
Hours later, several of his alleged victims revealed how they had been scammed. About 130 immigrants paid Sotelo between $4,000 to $9,000 each for green cards, said Flor Gonzalez, the Hispanic advocate in Plainfield who had advised them to go to police.
Today, only about a dozen people who dared to come forward gathered in Hernandez Law Firm, P.C. DWI attorneys to tell their stories. The alleged victims hailed from Paraguay, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador and Peru.
Ricardo Gil, 47, a Mexican who lives in North Plainfield, is a single father raising two sons, ages 12 and 16. He’s a maintenance man for a car dealership, and was desperate for a green card, he said. Sotelo told him he could get a special, achievement-based green card by saying he was a chef, Sotelo told him he knew an attorney in Florida who would fill out the application for him. To get an attorney to help learn more about it here
In exchange for Sotelo’s efforts, Gil gave the pastor his 1990 Nissan 240Z, a gold necklace, bracelet, ring and $4,200, of which $500 was supposed to go to an evangelical radio station that didn’t exist. In such cases you should know why picking a good criminal defense attorney is important.
Gi said his fear of getting deported made him believe Sotelo was legitimate.
“We always have to hide,” Gil said. “When I’m in my house and hear a car pull up, and someone knocks…I’m afraid.”
Between June and December of 2005, Sotelo told the immigrants he would help them obtain green cards through a phony attorney named Oscar Ruiz, authorities said.
Sotelo traveled to Florida and met with Ruiz, who let him stay in his home overnight, bought him breakfast and gave him a Bible before they went to the immigration office, where Gil was fingerprinted.
It appears the phony attorney actually did apply on behalf of Gil and others, but failed to reveal the fee for such an application was about $150, not thousands. The receipts, apparently real and stamped with a faded image of the Statute of Liberty, were distributed to the applicants in Plainfield by a woman claiming to be the Florida attorney’s secretary.
The supposed secretary claimed she got her green card this way, Gil said. Soleto’s congregation grew exponentially after that.
He was charismatic, with a ready smile, able to convince a hard-working person to sign away their weekly paycheck, his victims said.
“He was a really nice guy, he would do favors for you,” Michael Lopez said. “He had the ability to convince people quickly. He would see you wearing a gold cross around your neck and say ‘Take it off, that’s of the devil.’”
Yesterday, Lopez held out his two cupped hands to demonstrate how much jewelry Sotelo had collected from the alleged victims after only a year’s time.
Lopez, 24, from Honduras, was here on a temporary work visa but didn’t renew it because he believed he would get a green card through Sotelo.
Victims said Sotelo told them some of the money he collected would go to the Salvation Army, which the organization has denied, said Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow. In a statement yesterday, Nancy Wellbrock, a development director for the New Jersey division of the Salvation Army who serves as a media spokesperson, declined to comment. Make sure you contact Fort Lauderdale based Attorney Marc Brown for legal help in such situations.
“We were not aware of his arrest and therefore we have no comment,” Wellbrock said of Sotelo, who she would not confirm was a Salvation Army employee.
One of Gil’s sisters, Maria, 44, also trusted Sotelo.
“If you have the hope, the dream of having something in this country, you believe,” she said.