Sacramento, California - Helaman Hansen, 65, of Elk Grove, was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. for operating an elaborate adult-adoption fraud scheme that targeted undocumented aliens, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced. Judge England also ordered Hansen to pay $576,264 in restitution.
On May 9, 2017, after an 11-day trial, a federal jury found Hansen guilty of 12 counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, and two counts of encouraging and inducing illegal immigration for private financial gain.
U.S. Attorney Talbert stated: “The sentence today acknowledges the vast number of people victimized by the defendant. He preyed upon hundreds of people who wanted to find a pathway to American citizenship and exploited their hopes and dreams for his own financial gain. The defendant’s lies and false promises caused many to part with substantial amounts of money, and in some instances, a lifetime’s worth of savings. I want to thank our federal partners at ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI for their hard work in bringing the defendant justice.”
“Today’s decision should send a clear message to anyone who chooses to take advantage of innocent victims who are only trying to make a better life for themselves,” said Ryan L. Spradlin, special agent in charge of HSI San Francisco. “HSI continues to work closely with our law enforcement partners to seek out and arrest opportunistic swindlers who misrepresent our nation’s immigration laws for their own personal gain.”
“The FBI is committed to identifying and investigating fraud, especially when such crimes prey upon the most vulnerable people in our community. Legitimate pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants exist but adult adoption is not one of them. Unfortunately, Hansen knowingly accepted funds for adult adoption processes despite being informed that such would not aid his victims with obtaining citizenship,” said Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Sacramento Field Office.
According to evidence presented at trial, between October 2012 and January 2016, Hansen and others used various entities such as Americans Helping America (AHA) to sell memberships in what he called a “Migration Program.” A central feature of the program was the fraudulent claim that immigrant adults could achieve U.S. citizenship by being legally adopted by an American citizen and completing a list of additional tasks. At first, memberships were sold for an annual fee of $150, but that fee grew and eventually was as high as $10,000.
Although some victims completed the adoption stage of the “Migration Program,” not one person obtained citizenship. As early as October 2012, Hansen had been informed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that aliens adopted after their 16th birthday could not obtain citizenship in the manner Hansen was promoting. Despite that notification, Hansen and others acting at his direction induced approximately 500 victims to pay more than $1 million to join the fraudulent program.
This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Assistant U.S. Attorneys André M. Espinosa and Katherine T. Lydon prosecuted the case.