SAN FRANCISCO – Buyantod Thomas was sentenced on July 9, 2015, to six months in prison, for aiding and abetting the submission of fraudulent asylum applications at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) San Francisco Asylum Office, announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Special Agent in Charge Tatum King.
Thomas, 30, of Concord, Calif., pleaded guilty on March 27 to a one-count indictment filed on January 27, charging her with knowingly aiding and abetting a person to make a false statement in an asylum application. Asylum applications generally are submitted to USCIS in cases where removal from the United States would be contrary to law. To qualify for asylum, applicants must demonstrate that their removal would put them at significant risk based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. In this case, Thomas admitted she helped Mongolian nationals apply for asylum based on fictitious stories and false documents.
At sentencing, the Honorable Susan Illston, U.S. District Judge found that Thomas assisted in filing at least 25 fraudulent asylum applications. In sentencing Thomas, Judge Illston emphasized the need for deterrence for crimes of this nature, explaining: “I find these to be very serious crimes. The asylum system is such a precious system we have and if it’s abused in the way that it was abused here, then it won’t be used anymore and we won’t have it… [this case] is really damaging to the immigration system that we have in place.” In addition to the prison term, Judge Illston also sentenced Thomas to a three-year period of supervised release. The defendant will begin serving the sentence on September 4, 2015.
This case was prosecuted by the Office of the U.S. Attorney’s Special Prosecutions and National Security Unit. The prosecution is the result of a multi-year investigation. USCIS San Francisco Asylum Office’s Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) activity had identified Thomas as a preparer of suspect asylum applications, and had been closely monitoring her cases. Acting on a tip, HSI initiated an investigation. San Francisco Asylum FDNS officers supplied background information on Thomas and supported HSI’s investigation.
As a result, HSI worked with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ FDNS at the San Francisco Asylum Office, the Oakland Police Department, HSI Chicago, HSI Beijing and FDNS within USCIS to gather information that led to the conviction.