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Family torn apart by fraud scheme waits for justice

Published September 25, 2011 11:36 pm

Crime • Deported man's attorney, charged with defrauding undocumented immigrants, is on the run.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For 17 years, Leonel Medina lived half of his American dream. The undocumented immigrant from Mexico bought a house and married a legal resident with whom he had two children.

But Medina says he knew fully realizing his dream meant resolving his immigration status, and in March 2008 he met an attorney who promised to do just that.

Medina says James H. Alcala told him for $2,800 he would help him get a green card that would give him permanent residency, even though Medina had been deported from the U.S. in 2003. The offer and others like it, federal prosecutors say, was a sham; Medina was deported three years ago.

Now his wife and children may have a long wait to see justice served. Alcala remains missing after jumping bail nine months ago. Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah, said investigation of the case suggests Alcala has fled to Mexico. Alcala's ex-wife, Janet, and his attorney have also said they do not know his whereabouts.

Medina's wife, 32-year-old Silvia Alfaro, says she's frustrated Alcala hasn't been located.

"When I found out [Alcala was missing] I could not sleep," she said. "I feel sorry for him. But he needs to pay for everything he did [to] us and other families."

Medina, who now lives in Guanajuato, Mexico, and works as a farmer, said in a phone interview it is hard for him to accept his deportation.

"Sometimes I want to die, run, cry, because I cannot see to my children," he said. "[Alcala] just wanted our money."

Aaron Tarin, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) in Utah, explained Medina never had a chance to fix his immigration status. Since he had been deported once, the law required him to wait 10 years before he could apply for a visa again.

Alfaro said she was suspicious of Alcala from the beginning because her husband had met only with Alcala's legal assistants and met the lawyer in person only a few days before attending a meeting with Alcala and immigration officials in Salt Lake City.

Alfaro, who lives in Rose Park, still remembers the moment when she, her husband and her two children, Leonel, 11, and Guadalupe, 9, went to the meeting that changed her family's destiny. It was April 30, 2008.

"We were making plans, because it was Children's Day [a Mexican holiday]," recalled Alfaro. "My kids asked their dad if now he could go to Disney, and he told them yes."

Alcala and her husband entered the interview. But only the lawyer left the office.

"At that moment I knew something [was] wrong," Alfaro said.

Alcala told her Medina had been taken into custody after signing a self-deportation letter and he would obtain his green card through the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Alcala then requested $5,000 to start the paperwork, Alfaro said.

"I told him I did not have that money," said Alfaro. "He said he could help me to sell my house to be able to pay."

Alfaro refused. She and her sons traveled to Mexico to visit Leonel shortly after his deportation, but she has not had the money to do so since.

Tarin said he has at least 40 cases that were initially handled by Alcala. As to Alcala's whereabouts, Tarin said he doubts Alcala is in Mexico.

"I think he is in a Latin American country that has no extradition laws in the United States," he said. —

On the run

James H. Alcala is charged with conspiracy, visa fraud and encouraging or inducing undocumented immigrants to reside in the United States illegally between 2005 and 2009.

Alcala was released from jail after his July 2009 indictment but was sent back after he violated the terms of his release by traveling to Mexico in 2010. His lawyers used Alcala's Westside Property Management LLC — a company with 14 properties valued at nearly $2 million, according to court documents — to post his bail again that May.

But Alcala's whereabouts are unknown, and U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson has issued a warrant for his arrest, according to supervisory deputy U.S. marshal Jim Phelps.