Jury convicts Chicago-area attorney of immigration fraud for falsifying clients' asylum applications


CHICAGO — A federal jury Monday convicted a north suburban-Chicago attorney of submitting false information to immigration authorities to help his clients seek asylum in the United States.  

This guilty verdict was announced by the following agency heads: Zachary T. Fardon, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Armando Lopez, special agent in charge of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General in Chicago; and Michael J. Anderson, special agent in charge of FBI’s Chicago Office. Assistance was also provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Fraud Detection and National Security Unit; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); and the Farmington Hills (Michigan) Police Department.

Robert DeKelaita, 53, of Glenview, Illinois, was convicted on one count of conspiracy to commit asylum fraud, two counts of knowingly offering false statements in an asylum application, and one count of procuring perjury during asylum interviews. DeKelaita accepted fees from foreign nationals in exchange for submitting the false documents to USCIS. DeKelaita’s fraudulent statements often falsely portrayed his clients as victims of persecution by religious extremists in the Middle East.

This conviction is punishable by a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly scheduled a sentencing hearing for Aug. 3.

Asylum is a benefit the U.S. government extends to immigrants who have suffered persecution in their native country or who fear future persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. To apply for asylum, the immigrant must submit an application detailing his or her personal history and provide a specific account of the alleged persecution.  This asylum application is signed by the immigrant, the immigrant’s attorney, and, if translation services were provided, the interpreter. An interview is then held before immigration authorities, with all the signors present. A grant of asylum confers numerous benefits upon the immigrant, including eligibility to apply for U.S. permanent residence after a year.

DeKelaita is a licensed attorney whose Morton Grove firm, R.W. DeKelaita & Associates LLC, specializes in immigration law. Evidence at trial revealed that from about 2000 to 2011, DeKelaita prepared and submitted asylum applications that contained material lies, including tales of rape, murder, torture, kidnappings, bombings and other forms of religious oppression in the Middle East. As a result, several of DeKelaita’s clients were granted asylum and eventually U.S. permanent residence and U.S. citizenship.

Two interpreters who provided Arabic and Assyrian translations for DeKelaita’s clients were also charged in the scheme. Adam Benjamin, of Skokie, Illinois, pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to commit asylum fraud. Benjamin admitted in a plea agreement that he instructed DeKelaita’s clients to present false stories of persecution in order to secure asylum. Benjamin was sentenced in July 2015 to six months in prison. Yousif Yousif, also of Skokie, has pleaded not guilty to immigration fraud charges and is scheduled for trial Aug. 29 before Judge Kennelly.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lindsay Jenkins and Andrianna Kastanek, Northern District of Illinois, are prosecuting this case.