Coney man indicted for defrauding refugees

A Coney Island man faces up to four years in prison for bilking at least $30,000 from refugees while posing as an immigrant-assistance service provider, according to a 21-count indictment Brooklyn’s top prosecutor filed in Supreme Court on Aug. 8.

District Attorney Eric Gonzalez called scammer Vadim Alekseev’s alleged deceit particularly egregious because it exploited heightened levels of fear among immigrants worried about the federal government’s draconian policies.

“As the federal government puts in place unprecedented hurdles on immigrants and asylum seekers, it is more important than ever to make sure that con men don’t take advantage of the desperation and fear,” Gonzalez said. “This defendant allegedly did just that: he presented bogus credentials and charged vulnerable newcomers thousands of dollars for immigration services he never delivered.”

Prosecutors alleged that Alekseev filed 35 asylum applications with the Department of Homeland Security — which flagged them as fraudulent — while posing as an immigrant-assistance service provider between August 2014 and December 2017.

Alekseev charged locals between $1,000 and $3,000 in advance to prepare their applications, then refused to answer his customers’ phone calls and text messages after allegedly filing the applications, the indictment said. And the defendant even advertised his services in Russian newspapers and websites, targeting immigrants of Eastern European descent, prosecutors said.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services found that all of the applications were “strikingly similar” and determined they were fraudulent, according to Gonzalez’s office, which said none of the victims received asylum status or any other benefits from Alekseev’s services.

The indictment is a warning to copycats that any imitator seeking to replicate the defendant’s behavior will pay a price, the director of the federal agency’s New York asylum office said.

“It is particularly despicable when scammers prey on those in their own community, taking advantage of the trust placed in them to prepare immigration applications and petitions,” said Patricia Menges. “This is a reminder to those seeking to defraud the government that they will be brought to justice by the local and federal agencies tasked with preserving the integrity of our immigration system.”

Gonzalez charged Alekseev with first-degree scheme to defraud, first-degree immigrant assistance services fraud, fourth-degree grand larceny, tampering with physical evidence, and impersonating an attorney, and ordered he be held on $15,000 bail, according to information from his office.

Alekseev’s next court date is Oct. 3, the district attorney’s office said.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcsh[email protected]nglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.