Wagner, right, the United States Attorney for the
Eastern District of California, discusses the charges
filed against Helaman Hansen for allegedly running a
scam that offered adult adoptions as a pathway to U.S.
citizenships, at a news conference Thursday, Feb. 11,
2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Hansen, 63, of Elk Grove,
was arrested Thursday and indicted on conspiracy and
fraud charges. At left is Manny Alvarez, FBI Assistant
Special Agent in Charge Manny Alvarez, and Ryan
Spradlin, center, special agent in charge for Homeland
Security Investigations in San Francisco.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. —
Federal authorities charged a Sacramento man Thursday with
running what they called an unusually creative scam that
promised U.S. citizenships to hundreds of immigrants across
at least seven states in return for fees as high as $10,000.
Helaman Hansen operated a
Sacramento nonprofit called the Americans Helping America
Chamber of Commerce.
He was indicted for offering
adult adoptions as a pathway to citizenship for people who
were in the country illegally.
His agency promoted the
adoptions, which are legal and are routinely used in estate
planning, to make parent-child relationships official and to
aid in the care of a disabled adult.
But they don't affect adults'
immigration status, said U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner,
although they can be helpful for those under age 16.
"Taking advantage of the
hopes and dreams of undocumented immigrants, who are poorly
positioned to seek the protection of law enforcement, to
extract fees based on false promises, is a particularly
predatory and manipulative type of fraud," Wagner said.
He said the scheme that began
in 2012 had "a certain audacity" that separated it
from routine immigration fraud.
"Fraud schemes come in a
lot of different flavors, and this one is pretty creative, I
think. Far-fetched I guess would be another word for it. I
haven't seen one quite like this before involving adult
adoptions as a path to citizenship as a fraud scheme,"
No attorney is listed for
Hansen, who is set for a court hearing Friday. But Hansen
previously told Sacramento's KCRA-TV that the federal
investigation was likely sparked by a former employee who
inappropriately handled adoptions. He argued that his
program is as much about changing lives as it is in
Authorities said the
operation took in at least $500,000 from at least 500
immigrants in California, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, Utah,
Washington and Wisconsin.
Hansen, his employees and
recruiters initially targeted Pacific Islanders and claimed
to have offices in Fiji, according to the indictment. But
Wagner said they expanded to Latinos and immigrants from
China and Southeast Asia.
Hansen, 63, of the Sacramento
suburb of Elk Grove, was arrested Thursday on conspiracy and
a dozen fraud charges that carry a maximum penalty of 20
years in prison.
Operators initially promised
citizenship within a year after the adoption, the indictment
says, but later hedged that it could take two years.
Recruiting agents were paid about $1,500 for each victim
they brought in.
Aside from the adoptions,
immigrants were required to create a "new identity
profile" complete with driver's license, library card,
bank account, and birth certificate.
The agency started selling
what it called "memberships" in the program for
$150, but raised the rate to as high as $10,000 as more
victims responded, the indictment says. If necessary,
operators would use false information on adoption petitions
so it would be considered in court, the indictment says.
Wagner said the yearlong
investigation was complicated because victims were often
reluctant to cooperate for fear they would be deported. He
emphasized that is not the goal of the ongoing