A North Naples woman who ran bogus Naples hotel ads, then illegally charged Romanians for work visas, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to harboring aliens for financial gain.
At a U.S. District Court hearing in Fort Myers, Flavia Marichal, 58, of Prescott Lane, entered her plea before Magistrate Judge Sheri Polster Chappell.
“Defendant ... knew what she did was illegal and that she filed the applications to help struggling Romanians because she empathized with them,” Marichal’s 25-page plea agreement says, admitting forging a hotel manager’s signature and knowing the fraudulent visas would be used to get driver licenses.
She admitted charging up to $1,200 for visas for jobs that didn’t exist, charging some aliens $400 rent to live in a condo she owned, and letting another paint her home in exchange for rent.
Under the plea deal, a fraud charge was dropped.
A presentence investigation will be done before sentencing is set before District Judge Charlene Honeywell.
The maximum sentence is 10 years in a federal prison, but Assistant U.S. attorneys Robert Barclift and Yolande Viacava agreed not to oppose a lenient sentence due to a “substantial assistance” agreement in which she agreed to hand over records to prosecute others.
Marichal, who is free on bond, operates Fla Paralegal/Notary/Translation Support with her husband, Roberto, 62, from their Prescott Lane home.
Prosecutors moved forward to seize the Marichals’ $160,932 condo on Meadowland Drive in Pelican Ridge Villas because it was used to illegally house aliens. Her Facebook page says she supports Americans for Forfeiture Reform.
Defense attorney Michael McDonnell of Naples, who represents Marichal with attorney Eric John Vasquez, declined comment until sentencing. The policy of the U.S. Attorney’s Office also is not to comment until then.
Marichal ran Naples Daily News ads in July 2009, seeking waiters and spa employees for Hotel Escalanté on Fifth Avenue South.
She got U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor approval, enabling 10 aliens to get H-2B visas to stay here. She then housed them from October 2009 through July 2010.
The non-immigrant visas are given to foreign nationals seeking temporary work and enable employers to hire them to for non-agricultural services or work on a one-time, seasonal, peak-load or intermittent basis for up to a year if they are unable to hire qualified U.S. citizens.
Saying she was designated to act for the hotel, Marichal said 10 full-time servers were needed from Oct. 1, 2009, to July 31, 2010, due to increased demand and they’d be paid $7.59 hourly. She swore they couldn’t find U.S. workers.
On a temporary employment certification, she lied and said 10 workers — actually her clients — weren’t charged application or recruiting fees and used her address so no one would call the hotel. Then she told the aliens the hotel wasn’t hiring.
Last year, a special agent of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, interviewed the hotel’s manager, who said he knew Marichal as Flavia Martin because an employee whose visa was expiring in 2007 introduced her. The employee had used up three maximum stays, but Marichal said she could get the worker back into the country if he wrote a recommendation letter.
He paid her $1,500 and gave her blank hotel letterhead. When he called her in 2009, she said the Romanian Embassy denied the visa. He told her he didn’t need her services anymore.
He wasn’t aware of the ad or that she’d applied for 12 hotel employees for October 2008 to June 30, 2009, and 10 from Oct. 1, 2009, to July 31, 2010. He said his signatures were forged and his letter was copied many times.
A Romanian citizen, who alerted the feds about her fraudulent work, said he and three friends contacted her in July 2009, gave her $800 downpayments and promised $400 more once they got visas.
She met three at a local Starbucks and told them to take a visa-receipt notice showing they were seeking the hotel work to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Cape Coral to renew their licenses.
After her November arrest, Marichal admitted being very knowledgeable about visas and knowing she broke the law.