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Immigrants Sue Salvation Army, Claim Fraud

A half-dozen illegal immigrants are suing the Salvation Army and two of its former local officials for consumer fraud, claiming the leaders took their money under false promises of helping them gain l
( [email protected] ) May 21, 2006 10:10 AM EDT

ELIZABETH, N.J. (AP) - A half-dozen illegal immigrants are suing the Salvation Army and two of its former local officials for consumer fraud, claiming the leaders took their money under false promises of helping them gain legal status.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in state Superior Court, claims the Rev. Enoc Tito Sotelo told his mostly Latino congregation at Plainfield's Salvation Army church that he would help them become Americans if they each paid $4,000 and donated $500 to the church.

Gilberto Garcia, a lawyer for the immigrants, says Sotelo and Jorge Sancho, a Salvation Army captain assigned to the Christian organization's Bound Brook office, used the agency's reputation to harm his clients. The Salvation Army should have known what the men were doing, Garcia said.

Trish Pelligrini, a spokeswoman for the Salvation Army's New Jersey chapter, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the organization had yet to see it.

Sotelo was fired in April, and Sancho was dismissed in November, she said.

Pelligrini was not sure why Sotelo and Sancho were let go but acknowledged that Sotelo was fired after an internal investigation. It was initiated after complaints about the two men appeared in a Spanish-language newspaper.

No working telephone numbers could be found in New Jersey for Sotelo or Sancho.

The lawsuit claims the plaintiffs - five men and one woman from Latin America - were promised they had been "chosen by God'' to be sponsored by the Salvation Army for legal permanent residency.

An accomplice of the defendants helped them file applications requesting green cards for foreigners with extraordinary abilities, such as professional athletes and scientists, knowing they were not eligible, according to the suit. None of the six received green cards.

New Jersey consumer fraud law does not bar illegal immigrants from suing, Garcia said. The suit seeks class-action status, claiming that possibly hundreds more people were defrauded.

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