Courts & Crime

Asylum seekers' tales of rape, abuse turned out to be lies

For years, Sacramento's Sekhon & Sekhon law firm was renowned as a beacon of hope.

The firm, boasting a 95 percent success rate, helped more than 1,000 immigrants from a half-dozen nations get political asylum in the United States based on a fear of persecution.

Many of those new Americans now stand to be deported, because as many as 700 — coached by the firm's lawyers and interpreters — told phony stories of torture and rape to immigration judges and asylum officers.

In June, following a three-month trial in Sacramento's federal court, three of the firm's lawyers and two interpreters were convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government. Prosecutors call it one of the most brazen immigration scams in U.S. history.

In the months since, those who work in the asylum system have had to confront serious questions about a time-honored process that is based largely on trust: How did the firm get away with the fraud for so long? And how vulnerable is the process to liars and con artists?

The firm's founders, brothers Jagprit Singh Sekhon and Jagdip Singh Sekhon, along with attorney Manjit Kaur Rai and Romanian interpreters Iosif Caza and Luciana Harmath, return to court Dec. 17 for sentencing. Each faces up to 10 years in prison.

Between 2000 and 2004, the defendants filed hundreds of claims for Romanians, Indians, Nepalis and Fijians. They made more than $1 million charging clients for bogus addresses, medical reports, notarized declarations and tales of rapes and beatings that never took place, court records show.

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