CHICAGO (jGLi) – Manny and Marc Aguja are identical twins and they thought nobody could tell one from the other if one of them was away.
In fact, their sister, Servita Aguja-Aguilar, agrees that “growing up, Marc and Manny were inseparable. And they remain inseparable to this day – they are two sides of one coin.”
But Manny Aguja, a prominent Filipino American member of the Illinois bar, specializing in immigration cases, for more than ten years, made the mistake of telling his law office employee, Robert Insular, that when Insular “began working at the law firm, Manny Aguja and Marc Aguja told him that there was no Marc Aguja, only Manny Aguja.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason A. Yonan told Judge Samuel Der−Yeghiayan of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois at the sentencing Wednesday (Feb. 15) by letting his twin brother, Marc, “represent himself as an attorney to others – sometimes to even represent himself as defendant,” Manny Aguja should be sentenced the high-end of the sentencing Guidance range.”
Instead of initially proposing a 15-to-21 month imprisonment sentencing range for Manny, the U.S. government elevated the sentencing range from 21-to-27 month imprisonment when Attorney Aguja filed a response brief with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), containing “a number of false statements which illustrate that defendant has not fully accepted responsibility for his actions in this case,” even after pleading guilty to one-count of
marriage fraud conspiracy as three other initial charges were dropped.
When the U.S. agreed to the plea agreement with Manny, the U.S. government said it was “conditioned on the government not receiving additional evidence in conflict with that provision and on defendant continuing to accept responsibility for his actions.”
“GATEKEEPER” ALSO FINED $10K
In sentencing Attorney Aguja to 24 months imprisonment and a $10,000 fine, Judge Der-Yeghiayan said that as a “gatekeeper” of the law and despite an astonishing record that “he had helped numerous people who are here today,” Attorney Aguja could not escape imprisonment for being an “active participant” in the conspiracy and for committing an “extremely serious fraud” that “compromised his religious beliefs and blamed the government to save his law practice license before the BIA.”
Although, the whole day was devoted by the court to the sentencing of Manny and Marc Aguja, both 54, there were close to 50 people, mostly supporters of the Aguja brothers, who packed the courtroom in the chilly morning.
At least two priests, who gave character references for the Agujas, were also in the courtroom. They were Rev. Fr. Alfredo Salera, pastor of Transformation of Our Lord Parish, of which the brothers are parishioners; and Rev. Fr. John Rudnik, who wrote that Manny is a “big help in our Church as lector and cantor.”
As gatekeeper of the law, Manny, the court pointed out, should have nipped the marriage fraud in the bud, not encourage it. On the other hand, his twin brother, Marc Aguja, was sentenced to a “one year and one day” imprisonment plus a $10,000 fine for conspiring with several others, including his brother, Manny, “to assist individuals engaged in fraudulent marriages designed for the foreign nationals to obtain an immigration benefit and for the U.S. citizens to be paid.”
Marc’s conduct included “coaching individuals in fraudulent marriages on how to make their marriages appear legitimate and completing immigration paperwork for these marriages knowing that the paperwork contained false information.
“Moreover, during the conspiracy, defendant falsely introduced himself as an attorney and purported to provide legal advice to individuals in fraudulent marriages, including during two meetings with undercover” agents of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).
30 DAYS TO APPEAL
The Agujas have 30 days to appeal their sentences. If not, Manny will enter federal prisons starting May 1 between 12 noon and 3 p.m. Marc starts serving his time on May 15. They are likely to be committed to the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Oxford, a medium security institution for male offenders, in central Wisconsin, 198 miles northwest of Chicago, Illinois.
The twin brothers were the second and third defendants in the conspiracy to be sentenced. Last Jan. 12, Filipino-American Chicago Cook County deputy clerk of court, Maria Flordelis Pulido-Cruz, was sentenced to 33 months for being the “arranger” of 27 fraudulent marriages, making $1,000 to $3,000 per marriage.
Next up for sentencing are Latrice Wilson on Feb. 23 at 10:30 a.m.; DeShawn Barksdale and Keisha McGary on Feb. 29; and Sonia Maki, on March 6. Sentencing for the three others namely Eugene Wilson, Celeste Ligutan-Lopez and Maria Fernandez are still being scheduled.
Judge Der-Yeghiayan agreed with the statement of Edward M. Genson, partner in Chicago-based Genson & Gillespie Law office, private defense lawyer for Manny Aguja, saying, “Manny has led an exemplary life up to now; he has worked hard and has not had an easy life, he is steeped in religion, lives modestly and, above all, strives to help others. He has no prior criminal history. Unfortunately, Manny made mistakes in a misguided effort to help others.”
When it was his time to speak, Manny Aguja choked, saying “I am accepting full responsibility of my mistakes that have caused the loss of my reputation, my profession (he gave up his law license) and the respect of the community” that he had served.
Manny said for him to be forgiven (under the Christian values), he “acknowledges my mistakes, confesses them, repents with a willingness to suffer and do anything to atone for my mistakes.”
11 YEARS IN THE SEMINARY
Among his mistakes were Manny’s defense before BIA, where he blamed the U.S. government for being retributive when it brought marriage fraud charges against him and when Manny minimized his part in the scheme to merely filing government immigration forms and documents and the reason Manny was “unable to present a proper defense” because “the alleged criminal conducts [sic] occurred more than 8 years ago, and which led to the loss of possible defense evidence based on such unfortunate time-based occurrences.”
He promised to “continue to preach respect for the law” and to “keep his service to others.”
For his part, Marc, who like Manny, spent 11 years in the seminary in the Philippines, before coming to the United States, is also a religious person. He attends Catholic mass everyday. He told the judge, “I am deeply sorry for my mistakes.”
A holder of a masters degree, Marc said, “I am not an attorney. I am willing to accept the sentence. I was wrong. I beg your honor your mercy.” The Agujas are from Carigara, Leyte.
Gerry Rebello, a supporter of the Aguja brothers, said, “ang desisyon kina Manny at Marc ay okay naman.” (The sentences for Manny and Marc were fine.) (firstname.lastname@example.org)