Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

A former immigration officer who was found guilty of taking bribes from Cambodian immigrants in exchange for legal benefits — including the granting of temporary legal status — faced a sentence of 51 months in federal prison Tuesday.

Billy Louis Nelms Sr., 54, of Los Angeles was sentenced by a federal judge late Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s office reported.

Following a seven-day trial, Nelms on Aug. 1 was convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery and defraud the United States, bribery, conspiracy to tamper with a witness, and witness tampering.

“These corrupt actions challenged the integrity of an immigration system Mr. Nelms had sworn to uphold,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura. “Mr Nelms may have believed that he was above the law, but the prison sentence imposed shows that everyone will be held accountable for their illegal actions.”

Nelms’ wife, Sokhon Nelms, 60, also of Los Angeles was found guilty of conspiracy to tamper with a witness and witness tampering for threatening two witnesses at the behest of her husband, the U.S. Attorney’s office reported. She was scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 6.

The evidence at the couple’s trial showed that between 2005 and August of 2008, Billy Nelms worked in the Santa Ana federal building as an immigration officer in the Fraud Detection and National Security unit, which is part of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

As part of his job, Nelms was involved in — among other things — investigating marriage fraud on applications for an immigration benefit, officials said.

The bribery scheme involved Cambodian immigrants who were in the United States without legal status. The immigrants paid as much as $5,000 in cash, and, in exchange, Nelms stamped immigration documents that gave the immigrants temporary legal status in the United States, but not the permanent status they had sought, officials said.

After Nelms was indicted on bribery charges in June of 2013, he and his wife tampered with two of the witnesses in the bribery case, officials said.

City News Service

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