A Lynwood woman was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months behind bars for pocketing $75,000 from immigrants by impersonating an attorney with a similar name.
Jessica Godoy Ramos — who neither attended law school nor passed the state bar exam — was also sentenced to three years of supervised release — the first six months to be served in home detention — after she is released from prison.
U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee additionally ordered mental health counseling and restitution payments of almost $30,000.
Ramos “appears to have a mental health problem as well as a serious problem with telling the truth,” the judge said from the bench.
“This was a despicable crime — she deprived (the victims) of their hard-earned money” and “continues to be unable, and perhaps unwilling, to tell the truth,” Gee said.
Ramos pleaded guilty in November to a single mail fraud count, a felony carrying a possible 20-year penalty.
Posing as an immigration attorney, she accepted thousands of dollars from dozens of immigrants seeking her services in an attempt to obtain legal status in the United States.
In some cases, she filed immigration petitions on behalf of “clients,” but in other instances she accepted money and performed no services, falsely telling immigrants their applications had been submitted.
In at least one instance, the 37-year-old defendant created counterfeit immigration parole documents which a client was able to use to enter the United States.
“She bilked scores of the most vulnerable members of our society out of their hard-earned money by falsely claiming that she was a lawyer and could help them with their immigration issues,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Brown wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Ramos’ victims initially believed she was a legitimate immigration attorney, but several became suspicious when Ramos directed them to appear at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices for interviews, even though they had no appointments.
Federal authorities began investigating Ramos in February 2017 after a Homeland Security Investigations fraud task force received a tip about five of her victims, who went to USCIS offices in downtown Los Angeles expecting to pick up their non-existent “green cards.”
Crying as she stood before the court, Ramos promised to pay the victims back what she stole.
“I know that nothing I can say or do can take away the pain I’ve caused,” she said. “I have turned my life around and hope to one day be able to walk again with my head up.”