A disbarred Hilton Head Island lawyer offering "full-service immigration help" through a nonprofit organization that closed abruptly this month is being investigated for fraud by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Michael Wyman, who was disbarred 10 years ago and sentenced to prison after embezzling $700,000 from former clients, is again under scrutiny -- this time for his work at Immigrant Angels Inc.
More than a dozen people have been interviewed by agents from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office ICE Task Force about Wyman's activities at the group's office on Office Way, according to incident reports.
Sheriff's Office officials say investigation details must come from ICE under an agreement between the agencies. Atlanta-based ICE spokesman Vincent Picard said this week the investigation of Wyman and Immigrant Angels is active, but he would not say if charges are pending.
Some of Wyman's clients say they paid him thousands of dollars for assistance with immigration documents but have been unable to reach him since handing over their money.
Signs on the Immigrant Angels office door posted earlier this month indicates the organization has closed, the clients said.
CLOSED FOR BUSINESS?
Emily Quesada of Hilton Head Island said she and her husband Juan, who is originally from Costa Rica, went to Wyman in April for help getting permanent citizenship for Juan.
Emily Quesada said the couple recently gave Wyman money orders for about $1,490, which included Department of Homeland Security fees and Wyman's fees for preparing the citizenship documents. They then called him for two weeks. Those calls were not returned, she said in an interview.
On Monday, the couple went to the office to find it closed and authorities inside confiscating files, she said.
Their money orders have not been cashed. Emily Quesada said she is preparing to cancel them, which also incurs a fee.
Adding to the Quesadas' confusion: The Immigrant Angels office is one flight down in the same office building as Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Charleston, which also provides low-cost immigration help.
A sign posted on the Immigrant Angels' door Thursday said all former client files are in the care of the "Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston" and that the transfer "grows out of an unresolved dispute between Immigrant Angels and the Diocese, which has made this action necessary."
A second sign said those with a monetary claims against Immigrant Angels must notify the diocese if they want refunds.
The Diocese of Charleston says it is no longer affiliated with Wyman and has never been affiliated with Immigrant Angels. Calling Wyman "the office manager" for Immigrant Angels, a statement from spokeswoman Maria Aselage says he is not an employee or an agent of the Diocese, and that, contrary to the sign, the Diocese cannot provide refunds because it does not have the money Wyman took from clients.
"Several years ago, Mr. Wyman was involved in helping Catholic Charities and St. Francis By the Sea regarding some immigration matters," Aselage wrote in a subsequent email. "His association with the diocese ended recently."
The sign was not posted by anyone associated with the diocese."
Aselage did not respond to further questions about why the diocese ended its relationship with Wyman.Attempts to locate contact information for Wyman were unsuccessful. The phone at Immigrant Angels has been disconnected.
Immigrant Angels is registered as a nonprofit with the S.C. Secretary of State, with the agent name listed as Cynthia Lilly. Attempts to locate contact information for Lilly also were unsuccessful.
Ashley Diaz of Hilton Head Island, who also complained to ICE agents about Wyman, said she and her husband began working with him while he was involved with Lowcountry Immigration Services -- a now-defunct organization formerly located in the office space now occupied by Catholic Charities.
Diaz said she assumed Wyman was a lawyer because of his involvement with Lowcountry Immigration Services, and that he processed temporary residency documents for her husband Nelson, who is from Argentina. When Wyman opened Immigrant Angels downstairs, the couple continued working with him as they sought permanent citizenship for Nelson.
They paid him more than $900 in cash in January, at Wyman's request. Then they began "hearing through the grapevine" concerns about Wyman, Ashley Diaz said. They left numerous messages at his office phone which weren't returned. They went by the office, only to find new signs posted every so often indicating it was closed.
The Department of Homeland Security recently told the couple they had not received fees or paperwork for Nelson's permanent residency.
"I'm totally beside myself," Ashley Diaz said.
A MOVE DELAYED
In May, Catholic Charities moved into the office space formerly occupied by Lowcountry Immigration Services.
Catholic Charities director Mily Choy said when Wyman was working downstairs at his new Immigrant Angels office, he often waylaid her clients, beckoning them to come inside for immigration help rather than going upstairs.
Now that he's gone, Choy said it's common for his former clients to walk up the flight to her office and begin crying and panicking about their missing money and paperwork.
Catholic Charities will move soon to a Main Street location, Choy said, although those plans have been delayed because she worries her clients will think she also has disappeared.
- Diocese opens immigrant aid office on Hilton Head, May 17, 2012
- Immigrants vulnerable to legal assistance scams, May 15, 2010
- Lawyer ordered to repay stolen money, do jail time, July 23, 2002
- Hilton Head Island lawyer disbarred, April 29, 2002