,PHILADELPHIA -- A ring of Russian-born immigrants who live in the Philadelphia area made $3 million coaching asylum-seekers in how to lie to immigration officials, federal authorities charged Tuesday.
David Lynn, 33, advised at least 380 eastern European clients to claim they feared persecution based on religious, sexual orientation or other grounds, prosecutors said.
Lynn charged $8,000 per applicant or $10,000 to $12,000 per family, and took in so much cash he buried $560,000 and two 10-ounce gold bars in his basement floor, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.
Despite his seeming popularity within the Russian emigre community in Northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County, only a handful of his clients actually won asylum from 2003 to 2007.
"This fraud was about nothing more than money," said acting U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid, who charged that Lynn exploited "one of the cornerstones of the American immigration system."
Lynn -- who came to the U.S. from Israel and is also known as David Waisman -- ran a supposed translation service and claimed to be a lawyer, but was not, officials said.
Most of the clients were from Russia, while others were from Ukraine, Poland and elsewhere. The green card-seekers were coached to tell immigration officials they feared persecution in their homeland for being Baptist, Jewish, a Jehovah's Witness or gay, authorities said. One of Lynn's associates sometimes served as an interpreter at the interviews, they said.
Dissatisfied clients ultimately tipped authorities to the operation, Magid said.
The defendants include Lynn, who lived in Holland, Pa.; his father-in-law, Yevgeny Zemlyansky, 61, of Feasterville; Ilya Zherelyev, 46, of Philadelphia; Anatoly Zagrinichny, 62, of Philadelphia; Akbar Kadirov, 54, of Philadelphia; and the lone woman, 41-year-old Nelly Katsman of Holland.
Federal authorities moved to retain more than $1.3 million in seized cash and other assets, including funds kept in a Swiss bank account.
Lynn has not yet been arrested and is in the U.S. illegally, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials know of his whereabouts, prosecutors said. His lawyer, Ellen C. Brotman, declined to comment Tuesday.
The other defendants are naturalized citizens or legal permanent residents, authorities said.
The indictment also charges that Zemlyansky hid his income and his relationship to Lynn in order to get $12,000 in federal housing subsidies for one of Lynn's properties in Bucks County between 2004 and 2007. His lawyer, Anna M. Durbin, was in court and did not immediately return a message.
Zagranichny allegedly hid the money he made from Lynn to receive nearly $20,000 in housing subsidies in Philadelphia. His lawyer, Trevan Borum, declined to comment.
Zherelyev remains in custody on other matters, according to his lawyer, Joel Slomsky.