Friday, July 02, 2004

Immigration attorney Chee faces charges

Immigration attorney Chee faces charges

Immigration attorney Chee faces charges


By Jim Schlosser Staff Writer
News & Record

A Greensboro immigration attorney honored in the past for her free legal work and for championing the cause of immigrants has been charged with submitting false documentation to state and federal officials so two clients could remain in this country, federal authorities announced Thursday.

Manlin Chee, 52, was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly arranging a sham marriage so one immigrant could remain in the United States and filing legal papers with authorities falsely claiming that another immigrant was gay and would be persecuted if sent back to Egypt.

The clients, identified as John Doe I and John Doe II in the 19-count indictment unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem, were working as government informants. The charges were announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney Anna Mills Wagoner of the Middle District.

In addition, the grand jury indicted Chee, a Singapore native and naturalized American, of harboring a Colombian woman who had been deported after a drug conviction. The indictment alleges that the woman, Miryam Rojas Wright, returned to the United States and that Chee provided her a house and helped her change her name.

Chee also is accused of filing papers with various federal agencies that declared certain clients needing help to stay in the U.S. had jobs with Maid Marian Inc. and Immanuel Baptist Church. Maid Marian, a maid service, and the church had no knowledge of the clients, the government claims.

Also indicted were Chee's daughter, Chernlian Forgay, 27, who worked as paralegal for her mother; Adelaide Laryea, a 43-year-old Greensboro hair stylist, whom the indictment alleges Chee paid to recruit a woman for John Doe I to marry; Cassandra Poteat, 37, of Greensboro, alleged to have "married'' John Doe I in return for $7,000; and Henry Center Jr., 41, of Greensboro, allegedly paid $1,500 to sign a false affidavit in an asylum application claiming he had sexual relations with John Doe II.

The indictment says Center and Doe II never met until they came to Chee's office July 15, 2003, when Doe II paid Center $1,000. According to the indictment, Chee had earlier paid Center $500. The indictment said Chee had agreed to help Doe II for a $4,000 fee.

Forgay, Poteat and Laryea were arrested Thursday and appeared in federal court in Winston-Salem, where they were released pending arraignment Tuesday in Greensboro.

As of Thursday night, Center had not been arrested. Chee is in Singapore, where she has been off and on since temporarily surrendering her law license in April to the N.C. State Bar. The bar had six "grievances'' against Chee pending, most for allegedly neglecting cases. Locke Clifford, Chee's lawyer who accompanied her daughter to court Thursday, said Chee went to Singapore to care for her 83-year-old mother, who has since died.

Clifford said he planned to telephone Chee about the indictments and discuss her return to the United States.

Chee cited mental illness for giving up her license and closing her huge immigration law practice. At one point, she had offices in Greensboro, Charlotte and Wilmington that served approximately 5,000 clients.

Forgay was teary eyed after being released on her own recognizance by Judge Russell A. Eliason. Clifford said Thursday he couldn't comment on the charges against Forgay because he hadn't read the indictments yet. He said Forgay had worked at her mother's law firm for about a year performing clerical duties.

When news broke last spring that the FBI was investigating Chee, more than 60 supporters rallied in a downtown park praising her for rendering free legal services and helping innocent Muslim aliens following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The American Bar Association in 1991 honored Chee with its Pro Bono Publico Award, recognizing her free legal services to the poor.

The FBI earlier this year said it believed three-fourths of the cases involving marriages between Chee's clients and U.S. citizens were bogus. An alien who marries a citizen can obtain permanent U.S. residency.

But the indictments cited only the one marriage to John Doe I. In that case, the government alleges Forgay directed Doe I to pay Andelaide Laryea $1,000 to find him a "bride.'' That turned out to be Cassandra Poteat, who Doe I allegedly paid $7,000.

The indictment said that Poteat and Doe I met on April 21, 2003, with Chee "on the day before the 'wedding' to receive instruction on how to deceive immigration authorities.''

In May, the indictment says, Chee instructed Poteat and Doe I to live as "roommates'' in Poteat's apartment "to further deceive'' immigration authorities.

At one point, according to the government, Chee told Doe I she would have to increase her fee because she had learned the FBI was watching him. The indictment didn't elaborate.

In the case of John Doe II, the indictment says Chee advised him he must be willing to lie that he was bisexual to gain asylum. Furthermore, the government alleges Chee's daughter told the second Doe that her mother would "make up evidence of his bisexuality'' and she "would determine when he became 'gay.' ''

Forgay, the government claims, later sent a draft of an affidavit to Henry Center Jr., claiming the two had a homosexual relationship.

The indictment counts also involve Wright, the Colombian who during her first stay in the U.S. lived in Asheboro where she had a drug conviction in 1987.

After a lengthy fight with immigration authorities, with Chee as her attorney, Wright was deported in 1994, but returned in 1995.

The indictments allege Chee helped her change her name to Marian Bennett in 1999 and later filed papers with false statements to federal agencies concocting a phony sale of the house on Stanley Road to Wright.


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