Woman accused of using tribe for fraud gets 6 months

McALLEN — A woman accused of fooling her victims into paying for tribal membership as a way to work legally in the country was sentenced Friday to a six-month prison sentence and one year of supervised release upon completion of the term.

Keren Almeida-Cedillo pleaded guilty to a Class A misdemeanor fraud with identification documents, which was brought down from a federal fraud charge, moments before the court sentenced her to the six-month term and supervised release period.

As part of her plea deal with the government, Almeida-Cedillo will be required to pay restitution in the amount of $62,210, to be paid back in increments of $500 a month, over the course of 10 months, beginning a month after she’s released from custody and a month before her one year supervised release term is up.

The sentencing hearing comes nearly three years after federal agents arrested her in connection with a scheme that purported to provide and deliver tribal documents that would allow the purchasers to remain in the country legally — by claiming to be part of the Yamassee tribe, the complaint against Almeida-Cedillo stated.

During the course of nearly three years, beginning in December 2014 through February 2017, Almeida-Cedillo, a Mexican citizen lacking legal status to remain in the U.S., allegedly participated in the scheme while she lived near Houston.

Additionally, the government alleged that the 49-year-old woman from Mexico City had possession of tribal ID cards and tribal naturalization certificates between July 2014 and February 2017.

Almeida-Cedillo applied and began paying to be chief of the Yamassee Tribe in the Houston area, the document stated.

In March 2015, Humberto Reveles pleaded guilty for his role in the Yamassee Naturalization/Adoption fraud scheme in federal court.

According to the indictment against Reveles and his co-defendant, Maria Isabel Lerma, between October 2013 and September 2014, they attempted to defraud people looking for legal paperwork that would allow them to live and work in the U.S., by claiming to be able to provide documentation purporting to show their membership in the Yamassee Indian Tribe.

Reveles would provide his victims paperwork he said was issued by the U.S. State Department.

The investigation into Reveles, who has since completed a 33-month prison sentence, led authorities to Almeida-Cedillo, the complaint stated.

Evidence gathered by federal agents shows Almeida-Cedillo collected application, processing and other fees from people looking to receive the tribal membership documents.

The complaint stated Almeida-Cedillo had to be aware that the scheme was illegal, that the tribal documents were not authentic, nor would they allow anyone to legally work in the country, and would result in the deportation of those who had the tribal documents.

That’s because, according to the complaint, Almeida-Cedillo was in federal court on Dec. 2, 2015 to witness a purported Yamassee Tribe member, who had been previously deported from the country, plead guilty to illegal reentry despite having the tribal documents.

In addition to Almeida-Cedillo, Angel Ruiz-Garcia and Wanda Cepeda were also indicted on the federal fraud charges. Both pleaded guilty to the first count of the indictment, mail fraud, on Oct. 24, 2018, and have been on bond since then awaiting their sentencing.

Most recently, on Jan. 7, the sentencing hearings for Ruiz-Garcia and Cepeda were canceled “until further notice,” court notes show.

Originally, the court set Almeida-Cedillo’s sentencing hearing for Tuesday, but a handful of legal matters needed to be clarified prior to the sentencing. Specifically, the court is trying to determine punishment range and how much restitution Almeida-Cedillo could afford to pay back. It also needed to have probation services personnel interview the woman, causing a slight delay in the process.

Prior to being remanded back into custody, Almeida-Cedillo apologized to the court, said her involvement in the scheme was a big error on her part and lamented not realizing that error sooner.

McAllen-based attorney Oscar Alvarez represented Almeida-Cedillo during the re-arraignment and sentencing hearings.