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Former airline staffing exec gets prison for immigration fraud

SAN DIEGO — The former vice president of operations for two airline-staffing companies was sentenced in San Diego federal court Thursday to just over one year in prison for making false statements in support of residency petitions for dozens of the companies’ mechanics.

Eleno “Max” Quinteros Jr. of Chula Vista admitted to falsely certifying that he had received no payments from employees, when in fact he had demanded and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars of unlawful fees from about 85 of them.

Citing the “enormity” of the defendant’s offenses, U.S. District Judge Michael Anello ordered Quinteros, 46, to serve 12 months and one day in custody.

According to his plea agreement, Quinteros demanded and collected as much as $567,480 from his foreign labor workers, even though employers are prohibited by law from receiving payment for their costs, including attorneys’ fees, in connection with the applications.

Less than half the money Quinteros collected was actually paid to immigration attorneys assisting with the processes, while Quinteros himself kept an estimated $372,715, according to court filings.

As vice president of two staffing companies that provided workers for heavy maintenance on aircraft at a variety of airfields nationwide, Quinteros was responsible for recruiting Mexican aircraft mechanics to work in the United States, and for helping recruits obtain work visas.

According to the indictment, after assisting his recruits in obtaining permission to come to the United States, Quinteros agreed to help at least 85 of them pursue legal permanent residency in exchange for substantial — and illegal — fees.

He directed many employees to deposit money into his wife’s bank account or to provide him with blank money orders to conceal the source of the unlawful funds, court documents state. Other monies were routed through a company bank account, falsely identified as loans from him to the company, according to prosecutors.

While Quinteros was well-compensated during his scheme, collecting as much as $20,000 from some workers, his recruits at times had to sell their homes and cars to finance the unlawful fees, officials said.

The defendant pleaded guilty in August to a single count of making a false claim in support of an immigration application. He admitted in his plea, however, that the underlying scheme involved more than 25 immigration documents.

Quinteros has been ordered to pay back $292,526 in illegal fees collected from 52 of the identifiable victims of his scheme.

“Legal permanent residency in the United States is not a bargaining chip that greedy employers can sell to the highest bidder,” San Diego-area U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said following the sentencing.