Pinay community leader faces fraud charges in US

By Steve Angeles, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Nov 14 2012 04:28 PM | Updated as of Nov 15 2012 06:59 AM

LOS ANGELES - Lilia Tabafunda was arraigned in Federal court Tuesday afternoon to face 10 charges.

She appeared stressed and spoke softly as she entered a plea of not guilty.

According to an investigation by the Department of Labor and Immigration and Customs Enforcement through her recruitment agency business, Tabafunda and a co-conspirator, Gilbert Lawrence, would file work visa petitions for jobs at companies that did not exist.

Investigators claim since 2003, at least a hundred of the fraudulent visas were filed and approved.

Under the alleged scheme, Tabafunda would charge the beneficiaries between $2,500 to $8,000 each to file for their work visas.

She faces a total of nine counts of visa fraud and one count of perjury.

“For now, its life as usual these are only accusations and we'll get to the bottom of it,” said Atty. Jennifer Wirsching.

Tabafunda was arrested last month as she was boarding a cruise ship destined for Mexico and has been free on a $50,000 bond since.

Tabafunda has been an active community member, involved with several organizations in Los Angeles. She is currently part of the Echo Park neighborhood Council in Los Angeles.

“She is very committed and has always been very committed to the Filipino community and will remain to be,” said Wirsching.

Tabafunda has been ordered to appear at a preliminary hearing on December 3rd, then a trial on December 15th. Her alleged co-conspirator Lawrence is in custody in the Philippines where he has been accused of recruitment fraud.

A jury trial has been scheduled for next month. If convicted, the 57 year-old embattled community leader can face a maximum prison sentence of 95-years.