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'Privilege' could pose problem in immigration fraud prosecution

'Privilege' could pose problem in immigration fraud prosecution



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Eight employees of a Salt Lake City law firm accused in a large-scale immigration fraud scheme are scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday.

The employees of the Alcala Law Firm are accused of conspiring to obtain fraudulent temporary worker visas for illegal immigrants already in the United States. Federal prosecutors allege the firm obtained more than 5,000 of the sought after visas for laborers. The case is considered the largest of its kind in Utah history.

While the U.S. Attorney's Office gears up to prosecute an immigration attorney and his staffers, getting evidence to convict them could be difficult. Attorney-client privilege may protect communications and some documents involving James Alcala and his staff.

"We'll deal with that issue where that privilege comes in," U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said in an interview Monday with KSL NewsRadio.

The firm is accused of working with companies to obtain temporary work visas for immigrants. The recipients of those visas were already in the country, an indictment alleges, and employees conspired to fraudulently obtain them. Depending on who the client was at the time (the companies or the immigrants) certain communications may not be admissible in court.

"Much of this has to do with how the process and the applications are done," Tolman said. "If they're done illegally then attorney-client privilege won't protect that."

Still, Tolman is anticipating some argument about privilege and the firm's business. Federal authorities won't say if the companies are cooperating or will be implicated. They also refuse to say if some of the immigrants who received the visas have been detained.

When it comes to matters of attorney-client privilege, the client does have the option of waiving certain aspects of it.

"Individuals have come forward. We'll continue to talk to them," Tolman said. "We'll do it appropriately. Privileges are important. We believe in them and we'll adhere to them."

E-mail:bwinslow@ksl.com

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Ben Winslow

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