The Anointed Vision Church in Norcross, Georgia, probably won’t be reopening anytime soon.
In fact, the local and federal authorities who raided it say it wasn’t a church at all, but a barely disguised front for a program that fraudulently scammed clients, including some who were in the country illegally, out thousands of dollars in legal fees, according to WSB-TV.
Gwinnett Police and Department of Homeland Security agents charged 60-year-old Melva Washington with forgery, making false statements and unauthorized practice of law, reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Police said Washington never had a law license and forged tax and immigration documents for hundreds or perhaps thousands of people, according to WSB-TV. She also ran an unlicensed daycare in the facility, according to WXIA.
Charles Kuck, an immigration attorney, said suspicions arose when a client named Felix Rodriguez told him he had gotten a letter from Immigration and Customs Enforcement saying he had sent false information when he had applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, reported the Gwinnett Daily Post.
DACA is a program that allows younger people who immigrated to the U.S. illegally as children to stay in the country under certain conditions. The program has been in a kind of limbo after President Donald Trump announced his intention to end it.
Rodriguez told the lawyer he paid almost $900 to Washington to complete legal paperwork for DACA, which she allegedly signed. But the information was “completely fabricated,” the client discovered, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post. Sometimes applicants paid for fake GEDs or high school diplomas, Gwinnett County Police Detective Nermin Culrarevic told the paper.
Culrarevic said the lawyer contacted his office and reported the news.
“Two complainants came forward to us through an immigration attorney and their stories matched perfectly,” Culrarevic told the Gwinnett Daily Post. “They told us they met Melva and she promised she could fix their immigration status — both of them are here illegally in the United States ... [even though] one of the complainants said he was ineligible for [DACA]. She told him not to worry about that and just to post a payment and she would take care of everything else.”
Agents watched the church and never saw a service, WXIA reported. Culrarevic told the station “more than a thousand” people had been defrauded by Washington. “And this is just DACA applications,” he added.
A woman at the church who told Fox 5 she was Washington’s daughter told the station the woman did nothing wrong, but was instead only trying to help her community.
Washington is being held in the Gwinnett County Jail without bond, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.