Feds, ‘Tribe’ Wage Legal Fight in Immigration Scam

Roxana Hegeman, AP, August 5, 2008

When federal agents raided the offices of the Kaweah Indian Nation, Malcolm Webber told the arresting officer he had not committed fraud and was confused how he could be arrested on “sovereign soil,” court documents show.

Now, almost a year later, Webber must defend himself against charges that he and his so-called tribe defrauded immigrants by claiming that tribal membership conferred U.S. citizenship. He is scheduled to go to trial Tuesday.

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Webber, 70, of Bel Aire, also known as Grand Chief Thunderbird IV, is charged with two counts of harboring illegal immigrants, two counts of possession of false documents with intent to defraud the United States, two counts of conspiracy with intent to defraud the United States, one count of mail fraud and one count seeking criminal forfeiture.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson told the court that police seized $12,700 in cash from Orellana’s home after finding Spanish-speaking people lined up outside it, waiting to buy tribal memberships for $600 each.

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Prosecutors contend the Kaweah Indian Nation defrauded legal and illegal immigrants by claiming tribal membership conferred U.S. citizenship and would allow them to obtain other benefits and documents, such as Social Security cards. Prosecutors say the tribe is fake. But even if it were real, tribal membership would not make someone a U.S. citizen.

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