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Corona church operators scammed immigrants: DA

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Two men who operate a storefront church in Corona were charged with defrauding at least 70 immigrants of more than $500,000 by promising to help them get them U.S. visas and permanent immigration status, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said last Thursday.

Gregorio Gonzalez, 56, and Gerardo Bello, 21, both of Mamaroneck, L.I., each face counts on grand larceny, possession of stolen property and fraud, the DA said. Gonzalez’s sister, Maria Gonzalez, 52, of Corona, was charged with grand larceny and possession of stolen property, the DA said.

The two men were arraigned last Thursday, Brown said. Maria Gonzalez was arraigned last month on two criminal complaints, Brown said. Her next court date was May 12. If convicted, each faces up to 15 years in prison, the DA’s office said.

The trio met with the victims at locations including their church, Iglesia Pentecostal Roca de Salvacion Eterna, at 98−14 41st Ave., and Maria Gonzalez’s apartment between April and October 2008, Brown said. They allegedly promised the mostly Ecuadorian immigrants U.S. visas and permanent immigration status for fees ranging from $6,000 to $10,000, the DA said.

On March 23, police executed four search warrants at various Queens locations, including Maria Gonzalez’s apartment, recovering $75,000 in cash and a list of about 100 people, Brown said.

“The defendants are accused of being con $413,000 men who preyed upon the faithful of their church to unscrupulously exploit individuals new to this country,” Brown said. “Ironically, in the end, it was prosecutors who did God’s work and brought their alleged scheme to a halt.”

Brown said the investigation is ongoing and asked anyone who believes they were victimized by the defendants to call his Economic Crimes Bureau at 718−286−6673.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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