Photo by Alexander Nguyen
Photo by Alexander Nguyen

A man accused of posing as a “special agent” and bilking immigrant families out of thousands of dollars in exchange for promises to get their loved ones out of custody pleaded not guilty Thursday to burglary and grand theft.

Gregory Chavez, 51, is charged with 23 counts of grand theft, nine counts of first-degree burglary, four counts of attempted grand theft, two counts of perjury and four related counts. He was arrested Wednesday at his home in Porter Ranch and is being held on $1.2 million bail.

The alleged crimes date back to September 2010.

Prosecutors said Chavez, an unlicensed private investigator, lied to immigration detainees, telling them he could help them with their cases. They say Chavez liked to tell people he was a special agent, carrying a badge and boasting about working with a team of law enforcement officers.

Chavez allegedly collected about $75,000 from 21 detainees’ families but failed to provide any services. None of the detainees was ever released as a result of Chavez’s work, Deputy District Attorney Leonard Torrealba of the Consumer Protection Division said.

Chavez is set to return to court Aug. 11 when a date for a preliminary hearing is expected to be set.

If convicted as charged, he could face up to 32 years in prison.

— Wire reports

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