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Mother and Son Lawyers Accused of Conspiring to File Phony Asylum Applications

By Barbara A. Preston | December 1, 2022

Two Montgomery Township attorneys — a mother and her son — were indicted in federal court on November 18 for making false statements under penalty of perjury in visa applications, said U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger.

Thomas & Thomas law firm is located on Cherry Valley Road by Yorkshire Woods in Montgomery Township.

Maria Thomas, 81, conspired with her son Steven G. Thomas, 52, to submit fraudulent asylum applications, according to the 17- page indictment. Clients of their firm, Thomas and Thomas LLC located at 181 Cherry Valley Road in Montgomery Township, say they were coached to memorize false claims about hazards they faced in their home countries.

The indictment claims that Thomas and her son used an identical passage to describe adverse conditions their clients experienced in their native countries in 13 of 100 randomly inspected asylum petitions submitted between 2015 and 2021. That passage said, “We lived together cramped in one room built out of a combination of mud, wood, and cardboard.” “There was no kitchen, bathroom, electricity, nor any running water. When it rained, the water would pour in through the cardboard roof and soak us.” “Our living conditions were so bad that we were constantly contracting different illnesses, which we had to endure because we had no access even to the most basic forms of medical care,” the indictment said.

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Steven Thomas also was charged with one count of filing a false visa application. According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court: From 2015 to 2021, the defendants encouraged their clients to apply for asylum under fraudulent pretenses. They advised their clients regarding the manner in which they were most likely to obtain asylum, knowing that these clients did not legitimately qualify for asylum.

The defendants then prepared fraudulent applications and affidavits on behalf of those clients, which were submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. “There is no indication that the [clients] associated with those 13 applications had any relation to one another such that they would have endured identical circumstances,” the indictment said.

Individual Number 2

In one case, the firm was contacted around 2015 by a person who had entered the country illegally about 10 years earlier, the indictment said. That person, identified as Individual 2, said they did not fear violence or persecution in their home country, but was nevertheless promised by Steven Thomas that they could submit an asylum application for a charge of $16,000, the indictment said. The firm submitted an application falsely claiming that Individual 2 was a target for prosecution, torture and assassination in the client’s home country, Guatemala, because the client’s family was involved in the Guatemalan Civil War. After the firm submitted an application on behalf of Individual 2, Maria Thomas coached the client to memorize statements from the affidavit in the asylum interview. However, Individual 2 answered questions at the interview honestly, and the asylum application was denied, the indictment states.

Individual Number 3

The Thomas Firm also prepared an asylum application on behalf of Individual Number 3. The firm indicated this person was seeking asylum based on multiple factors. An affidavit was appended to the application, which contained multiple false and fraudulent assertions, including that Individual Number 3 was a target for persecution, torture, and assassination in his/her home country. The Feds said none of these things were true.

Confidential Informant

The 17-page indictment also includes an anecdote from a confidential source. In early 2021, Steven Thomas met with a confidential source who, at the direction of law enforcement, was posing as a noncitizen seeking legal status in the United States. During the meeting, the confidential source informed Thomas that he/she had been present in the United States for 20 years. Steven Thomas allegedly told the informant to apply for asylum on the basis of the violent situation in the informant’s home country, and that the asylum application would cost $20,000.

At a subsequent meeting with Steven Thomas, the informant said he had never been the victim of violence while living in the home country of Mexico, and that he did not even participate in politics. Despite this, Thomas indicated that the source could proceed with the asylum application. Specifically, the following information and statements were on the filed. On form I-589, “Have you, your family, or close friends or colleagues ever experienced harm or mistreatment or threats in the past by anyone?” The box indicating “Yes” was marked in response.

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In another area of the application, it stated: “I began to be harassed, intimidated, and threatened in a way that I began to fear for my life, and the lives of my relative... There was an attempt against my life.” The form further stated: “I fear returning to Mexico. I fear that upon return, I will be immediately targeted for persecution, torture and elimination on account of my race, and an imputed political opinion in view of my previous challenge to The Confederation of Mexican Workers [Confederación de Trabajadores de México (CTM)], now a notoriously corrupt institution, apparently with the blessing of the Mexican government.”

Maria Thomas’s lawyer is Mark Catanzaro, a Mount Holly solo practitioner. Steven Thomas’ lawyer is Jerome Ballarotto, a solo practitioner in Hamilton, declined to comment. A message left at Thomas and Thomas was not returned. Steven Thomas was first charged with immigration fraud in February, as reported by The Montgomery News. On Nov. 18, Maria Thomas was charged, and an additional charge was issued for Steven Thomas.

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