Suspended Wilmington attorney pleads guilty to visa fraud

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(Photo: USAF / Joshua Magbanua)

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A Wilmington woman pled guilty on Wednesday to fraud in connection with visas, permits, and other documents.

According to court documents and other information presented in court, Roydera Hackworth, 63, was an attorney licensed to practice in North Carolina and was suspended by the North Carolina State Bar (NCSB) on June 25, 2012, from practicing law and on April 30, 2014, by the Board of Immigration Appeals from practicing in immigration matters before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (i.e. the Board of Immigration Appeals and the immigration courts) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

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Hackworth primarily handled administrative cases for clients before USCIS.

In September 2019, DHS Disciplinary Counsel advised NCSB, and later the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina,  that based on information DHS Disciplinary Counsel discovered in USCIS records, it appeared that Hackworth violated her suspension and continued to practice, prepare, and submit Form G-28s (Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative), petitions, and applications with USCIS on behalf of client petitioners and applicants for immigration benefits after she was suspended on April 30, 2014.

Based on an investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS), approximately 20 Alien Files were reviewed. Further, interviews of persons that Hackworth “represented” were conducted which revealed that Hackworth impersonated another licensed attorney, submitted various immigration-related documents which she signed under penalty of perjury representing that she was the other attorney and that she was not suspended and was authorized to practice law.

The review by HSI and FDNS revealed that between 6 and 24 clients were represented by Hackworth with no knowledge that Hackworth was submitting their immigration petitions and application under the name of the other attorney.

The DHS Disciplinary Counsel said: “Hackworth’s disregard of the Board of Immigration Appeals suspension order caused harm to her clients and to the immigration system.  Her unscrupulous behavior required further action to protect the public and the immigration system.  We are thankful the U.S. Attorney’s Office took the information we discovered and prosecuted Hackworth.”

Complaints regarding immigration attorneys appearing before DHS can be sent to DisciplinaryCounsel@uscis.dhs.gov or for attorneys appearing before the immigration courts or the Board of Immigration Appeals to EOIR.Attorney.Discipline@usdoj.gov.

“Hackworth not only violated the oath of her profession and the laws of the US immigration system, but she also violated her client’s trust when she fraudulently represented them,” said Special Agent in Charge Special Agent in Charge Ronnie Martinez, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in North Carolina and South Carolina. “Preventing the exploitation of people and protecting the integrity of the US immigration system are hallmarks of HSI’s mission.”

Hackworth pleaded guilty to violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a) and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced. It is anticipated sentencing will be during the Court’s term in January, 2022 in front of U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan.

G. Norman Acker, III, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after the plea was entered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones, Jr. The Department of Homeland Security Investigations, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security investigated the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich prosecuted the case.