Mother Pleads Guilty To Marriage-Fraud Charges; Asks For Leniency

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (jGLi) – After Filipino American Maria Flordelis Pulido-Cruz pleaded guilty to marriage-fraud conspiracy to evade immigration laws and enable foreign nationals, mostly Filipinos, to illegally become U.S. citizens, her daughter, Victoria May Pulido Layson, wrote Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan of the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois in Chicago an undated letter:

“It was my mom, who took all the obligations just to give us food to eat, clothes to wear, send us to the best schools. … I know she was only forced to do such a thing. … I know she will get through all the pain and trouble.”

Last May 15, 2011, after writing the character letter, May Layson was killed in a car accident when she left her birthday party in Dipolog City in the Philippines.Out of pity and despite the risk that Maria Cruz might not return, the earlier judge in the case, Judge Charles R. Norgle, Sr. ordered the Pre-Trial Services office to return the passport to Ms. Cruz and allowed Ms. Cruz to travel to Dipolog City “to arrange and attend the funeral of her biological daughter.”

Ms. Cruz was ordered to return to “district no later than (one month) on June 15, 2011 and return the passport to the pre-trial services.” In a sentencing memorandum filed on Monday, Jan. 9, Mrs. Cruz’s lawyers Carol A. Brook and Miangel Cody of the Federal Defender Program used May Layson’s letter as one of character letters, appealing to Judge Der-Yeghiyan to impose on Mrs. Cruz a minimum “sentence of no more than 18 months’ imprisonment.”

Her lawyers reminded the judge that after pleading guilty in this case, Ms. Cruz obtained her passport from pretrial services, flew from the United States to the Philippines, and remained in the Philippines for one month. The reason for her trip: to bury her suddenly deceased daughter May Layson.

FLEW TO PHILIPPINES & RETURNED TO U.S.

After the funeral services were complete, Ms. Cruz did exactly as Your Honor instructed her. She flew back to the United States, returned her passport to her pretrial officer and continued to follow all conditions of her pretrial release. In essence, Ms. Cruz – who had no criminal history before this case – followed the law to the letter.

Ms. Cruz, 50, formerly of Chicago and now living in American Canyon, California, is slated for sentencing on February 15, 2012 along with Atty. Manny Aguja and Aguja’s twin brother, Marc Aguja, both 54, both of Chicago. Sentencing for others accused in the case will follow next. All the accused in the case had pleaded guilty.

Awaiting sentencing are Maria Cyd Adriatico-Fernandez, of Oakbrook, Illinois;  Latrice Wilson, 38; Sonia Maki, 44; DeShawn Barksdale, 40; Keisha McGary 34; Celeste Ligutan-Lopez, 37; and Latrice Wilson’s brother, Eugene, 38, all of Chicago.It was Ms. Cruz, who beginning in July 2003 and up to Oct. 2009 in Chicago, who knowingly arranged marriages of U.S. citizens for the purpose of evading immigration laws in order to obtain legal permanent-resident status with foreign nationals, mostly Filipinos, upon payment by the foreign nationals for $10,000.

All defendants face maximum of five years imprisonment, a maximum fine of $250,000, not more than three years supervised release and $100 assessment fee. But the judge has an option to reduce the sentence.Aside from pleading guilty to Count one (conspiracy to commit marriage fraud), Ms. Cruz faces an additional charge of “committing, aiding or abetting marriage fraud.”

Her lawyers told the court that “with applicable range of 27 to 33 months, the defense is not asking for an extraordinary variance in this case. A sentence of no more than 18 months is sufficient, but not greater than necessary.”

SURVIVOR OF SEX ABUSE AND ECONOMIC EXPLOITATION

Ms. Cruz’s lawyers asked the judge to look into her background before “fashioning an appropriate action.” A mother of five, Ms. Cruz left home and her children in the Philippines to work in Saudi Arabia. She wanted to provide a better life for her family.

Ms. Cruz is a survivor of sexual abuse, economic exploitation and addiction. She is a survivor of many obstacles, but she is also flawed. After over a year of counseling and treatment, Ms. Cruz is finally able to acknowledge that she is a recovering compulsive gambling addict that impaired her judgment, and ultimately, that is why she is before the Court for sentencing.

In the year preceding her offense, Ms. Cruz’s compulsive gambling spiraled out of control. She visited local casinos on an almost daily basis, and each time, she lost $1,000 on average.Ms. Cruz accepts responsibility for her actions. Having joined Gamblers Anonymous in July 2010, Ms. Cruz is eager to maintain her recovery.

In asking for reduced sentence, her lawyers pointed out the “the (annual) cost to incarcerate a person in federal custody is nearly $27,000 while the annual cost of supervised release is about $3,700.”

Another character letter from her friend, Erlinda Calunsag Delbo, of Dipolog, said that Ms. Cruz has three school children, three young grandchildren and a son, who “all depend upon her for support and sustenance.”

Another letter from her elder sister, Adelwisa Laput, of Hercules, California, asked the court to “spare my sister from incarceration and give her a chance to raise her youngest child, Mark.” She said Ms. Cruz was sexually assaulted at the age of eight by a visiting family guest in military uniform, carrying AK-47. But Ms. Cruz kept the rape a secret for 10 years. “If there’s anything I can do to work with her with some kind of community service to repay the harm she has caused to the society and the justice system, I would be so willing to assist her and follow your directions. Please let her serve her time monitored at home and I will be the guarantor to supervise” her.

For her part, Ms. Cruz told the court, “my sincere apologies to everyone and the U.S. government. This big mistake is so painful and shameful to me, my family and to everyone I hurt. I will never, ever do this again. I am truly sorry.”  (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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