Fairfax County police arrested a Gainesville woman today (Wednesday) for reportedly posing as an attorney in a fraud scheme that particularly targeted Latino immigrants.
Jasmine Moawad, 45, has been charged with two counts of obtaining money on false pretense, felony charges that collectively carry a possible sentence of up to 20 years in jail and fines of up to $200,000, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano says.
Moawad was transported to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center and later released on a $8,000 unsecured personal recognizance bond, according to police.
Descano joined Fairfax County Police Department officials at the county’s public safety headquarters this afternoon to urge community members to come forward if they have additional information related to the ongoing investigation.
“We are here today to encourage anyone who has more information about this matter to please come forward,” Descano said. “I want to especially make clear to members of our community who may feel that they’ve been ignored by the criminal justice system that we take crimes against them very seriously.”
Descano says his office hasa community trust policy that prohibits prosecutors and staff members from assisting federal immigration authorities with civil enforcement cases.
“If you have relevant information, you do not need to fear ICE or deportation if you come forward,” Descano said. “We have no tolerance for individuals who prey on our immigrant neighbors, because immigrant neighbors make our community whole, and my office will do everything in its power to safeguard Fairfax County’s immigrant communities.”
According to Capt. Ron Manzo, commander of the FCPD’s criminal intelligence division, police started investigating Moawad after an acquaintance of one of two identified victims contacted police “out of concern for the welfare of the victim.”
The FCPD says Moawad represented herself as an attorney with an organization called Americanos for America Party Incorporated and claimed that she would provide legal assistance for immigration cases.
According to police, Moawad utilized rented office space in the Tysons area and obtained clients through referrals and by advertising with fliers in restaurants, laundromats, and other venues. She then charged them for services that were never rendered and that she is not qualified to provide.
Manzo says detectives have identified two victims so far but are aware of five.
“Amongst victims that have been identified thus far, detectives have determined a pattern that suggests Ms. Moawad targeted racial and ethnic minority community members and, specifically, Latino immigrants,” FCPD Deputy Chief for Investigations and Operations Support Lt. Col. Thomas Ryan said. “Exploiting fear and offering a promise of hope to unsuspecting victims through deceit and misrepresentation will not be tolerated against any member of our community.”
Fairfax County police are working with Virginia State Police and Prince William County, where Moawad resides, on the investigation.
The FCPD is asking potential victims to call 703-802-2750. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through the department’s Crime Solvers site by phone (1-866-411-TIPS), online, or by texting “FCCS” plus tip to 847411.
“Anonymous tipsters are eligible for cash rewards of $100 to $1,000 if their information leads to an arrest,” the FCPD says.
Descano says this type of crime is a priority for his office, which will expand with 15 additional positions in the county budget for the next fiscal year.
“I think it’s very important that all members of the Fairfax County community know that they have a justice system working for them and an elected commonwealth’s attorney who’s going to take their issues seriously,” Descano said. “That’s why it’s so important that we get this message loud and clear out there, because if there are other victims, we want to get justice for those individuals as well.”
Following the county government’s lead, Fairfax County Public Schools will soon prohibit voluntary cooperation between staff and Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the school board voted unanimously on Tuesday (May 5) to create a “School Trust Policy.”
Fairfax County School Board members say the new policy will align with the Trust Policy that the county adopted in January, which prohibits employees from giving federal immigration authorities information about a person’s immigration or citizenship status unless required by law or court order.
With the vote, some board members will start working with FCPS staff to develop the policy for full adoption in the near future. According to the school board, the new policy will be designed to help build confidence with immigrant families.
“Even with our school system’s existing commitment to privacy protection, the need for a policy that rebuilds trust with immigrant families remains urgent,” Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch, who co-sponsored the measure, said. “Fairfax County took the necessary first step. Our school division will now join them by developing a policy that helps rebuild trust in our schools and keep families together — that is exactly what the School Trust Policy will do.”
Student information, including immigration status, is confidential under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, typically known by its acronym, FERPA. But advocates say ICE can easily access names, addresses, and birth dates to locate undocumented students and their parents.
“Because ICE takes advantage of privacy law deficiencies through data-mining of multiple public and quasi-public databases, the policies limit disclosure to other outside entities whose records could be accessed for immigration enforcement,” the immigrant rights group ACLU People Power Fairfax said. “Sensitive contact information may still be shared, but only when required to accomplish the agency’s mission.”
A recent survey from CASA, the largest immigrant advocacy group in the mid-Atlantic region, showed that Fairfax County has struggled to gain the immigrant community’s trust because members fear any contact with the police can lead to their deportation, Frisch says.
This fear keeps some families from accessing FCPS resources, such as meals, mental health services, parent workshops, and academic opportunities, according to School Board Chair and Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson, who joined Frisch in proposing the Trust Policy.
“To regain their confidence, we must demonstrate in all that we do that we are in the business of education and nothing more,” she said.
But the magnitude of the problem in FCPS is not easy to measure, as the Virginia Department of Education does not track immigration status.
What the school division does know is that, during the 2019-20 school year, nearly 27% of all students last fall were English Learners, and Frisch says that in 2018, a former FCPS student who was undocumented told the board that he did not report incidents of bullying and assaults because he feared being reported to ICE.
The forthcoming School Trust Policy will be essential to immigrant students’ educational success and general well-being, ACLU People Power Fairfax Lead Advocate Diane Burkley Alejandro says.
“Although federal privacy law provides protection for student information, there are numerous exceptions that put immigrant families at risk,” she said. “We applaud the School Board for recognizing that more must be done.”
Fairfax County employees are now prohibited from providing information about a person’s immigration or citizenship status to federal immigration authorities unless required by law or court order.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 to adopt the new Public Trust and Confidentiality Policy yesterday (Tuesday) as part of a board matter introduced by Chairman Jeff McKay, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, and Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik.
While Fairfax County has long maintained that it does not assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unless mandated, McKay, Foust, and Palchik say the need to turn those guidelines into a formal policy has been heightened the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected local Latino communities in particular.
“While there are no known instances of General County employees voluntarily sharing information about a resident’s immigration status, such policies are no doubt critical steps forward in building community trust and transparency,” the board matter said. “They also help quell fear in our community and ensure everyone feels comfortable getting the assistance they need from local government.”
The immigrant rights groups ACLU People Power Fairfax and CASA hailed the trust policy as “a major victory” after a four-year campaign urging Fairfax County to bar agencies from voluntarily disclosing information to ICE.
Advocates have argued that information-sharing with ICE can undermine public safety, as fear of detention or deportation discourages immigrants from reporting crimes, seeking medical attention, going to school, accessing basic needs assistance, and utilizing other critical local government services.
CASA says Fairfax County’s new policy is the first of its kind in Virginia.
“For four years, we have marched, spoken out and stood up for our rights as immigrants, and now we can finally breathe easier,” Luis Aguilar, CASA’s Virginia state director, said. “We are grateful for the leadership of Chairman McKay and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who stood strongly in support of immigrant families by voting through this critical county policy change.” Read More
The two candidates vying for the Providence District seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors faced off last night at the Providence District Community Center.
The League of Women Voters, who hosted the debate, encouraged attendees to submit questions for Democratic Dalia Palchik and Republican Eric Jones, and the candidates didn’t hesitate to disagree when it came to the hot-button issues of the evening.
They compared thoughts on the importance of census data, budgets, sanctuary counties, immigration, renewable energy, panhandling and firearm regulation throughout the evening. Here are some highlights from the debate:
Affordable Housing and a Rising Cost of Living
When it comes to the panhandling in Fairfax County, Jones said people struggling financially in the area should move elsewhere in the country where the cost of living is lower, like Ohio.
“It’s very expensive to live here. there are other places where it’s not so expensive to live,” Jones said. “To some degree, it is simply a choice [on where to live.]”
Palchik took another approach. “I support that we took a step back and said, ‘No, we are not going to criminalize panhandling,'” she said, adding that the county should work to ensure there is enough affordable housing and job security.
On the topic of affordable housing, Palchik said she is looking into coordinating with faith-based organizations to expand affordable housing options, especially for seniors.
Dalia said she wants to focus on fighting for fair wages for county employees, while Jones said he would rethinking policies for zoning and regulation to help small businesses.
Immigration and the Census
Immigration and the U.S. Census were popular topics during the debate.
Palchik said she was pleased when the citizenship question was removed from the census, saying that it encourages more participation. Without responses accurately representing the population of the district, the county would lose out on tax revenue that benefits the community, she said.
“We still have families who fear coming to school to sending their kids to preschool or going to a food pantry, because they are afraid we are collaborating and sharing their information with police,” she said.
Meanwhile, Jones said he believes undocumented immigrants are a danger to the community. “I am especially against sanctuary countries,” he said. “These are especially harmful to our legal immigrants.”
During his time with the U.S. State Department, Jones said he conducted interviews for the immigration process and granted thousands of people citizenship or permanent resident status.
“I believe we should cooperate completely with federal authorities,” he said.
One of the largest issues the candidates clashed on was the implementation of renewable energy. Palchik seemed to be in full support while Jones said the cost would outweigh the benefits.
“I think the so-called New Green Deal is unrealistic,” Jones said, referring to the Green New Deal. “You cannot run the Metro system on wind power, solar power and batteries.”
Instead, he told the audience that he believes in natural gas and nuclear power.
Palchik shifted the conversation, noting her endorsement by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups around the area. Palchik pointed to her time on the Fairfax County School Board, where she launched a joint environmental taskforce with the school board, students and Board of Supervisors.
She said that, if elected, she will be spending time in Richmond working to eliminate solar energy roadblocks.
New Republican Candidate
Jones was a new face for voters. After candidate Paul Bolon’s death in August, Jones was chosen as the new conservative candidate to run against Palchik.
“I’m running to give voters a choice in Providence District,” Jones said during his opening statement. “I wish my friend Bolon was here today.”
Palchik gave her respects after the debate. “I want to thank Mr. Jones for stepping up, I know it was a tragedy.”
The election is on Nov. 5.
This op-ed was submitted by Steve Descano, the Democratic nominee for Fairfax County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney and former prosecutor for U.S. Department of Justice under the Obama administration. It does not reflect the opinions of Tysons Reporter. We publish op-eds and letters to the editor of specific interest to the Tysons community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.
The national conversation on immigration can be debilitating. While national politics on this issue is a catastrophe, local District Attorneys can implement policies in their offices to protect our immigrant communities.
Fairfax County’s next Commonwealth’s Attorney (Virginia’s version of a District Attorney) will lead a criminal justice system larger than seven states and the District of Columbia. The foreign-born population of Fairfax County makes up about 30% of its population of 1.1 million.
Where you come from doesn’t give you less of a right to fair treatment under the criminal justice system. Additionally, because prosecutors have the potential to touch so many when it comes to immigration, they must take the lead.
Immigrant populations are often vulnerable to a criminal justice system that does not treat them in the same way as non-immigrants. If we want Fairfax County to continue to be welcoming and for diversity to be a central characteristic of the community, then those values need to be reflected in the criminal justice system.
District Attorneys can change the way their offices interact with ICE and other immigration officials. I have promised not to assist ICE. This paradigm shift will increase public safety.
For example, domestic abusers regularly exploit their victim’s immigration status to stop the victims from reporting abuse, thereby trapping their victims in a recurring cycle of domestic violence. Allowing these victims to report their abuser without having to fear their own deportation gives them a real opportunity to escape continued victimization.
Regardless of the crime committed, when undocumented individuals feel that they can report crime to the police, our communities are safer. Instead of sowing distrust between immigrants and law enforcement, public safety demands that we ensure everyone feels protected.
Charging and plea guidelines in a DA’s office can also affect undocumented communities. Considering the immigration consequences of charging and plea decisions is critical to ensuring equality and opportunity. If two people commit the same minor offense, but only one’s punishment includes the breaking up of their family via deportation, the result is unequal treatment based on status.
Furthermore, deporting parents and removing them from their children for minor offenses serves no social good. It merely creates more hardship and exacerbates inequality.
For too long, the criminal justice system has been skilled at breaking up families and systemically fostering criminal behavior. This failure has taken the most vulnerable down with it.
As prosecutors, we have the opportunity to build up communities by rooting out the systemic causes of crime. We should be leaders in our communities in bringing equality to immigrants even if we can’t reform immigration policy nationally.
— Steve Descano
Photo via Steve Descano/Facebook
Fairfax ICE Arrests Higher Than Some States — “More than 12,000 Fairfax County residents are facing deportation proceedings, surpassing the number of cases in other major localities, including Manhattan, N.Y., and Philadelphia, Pa., and even states like North Carolina and Louisiana, a new report says.” [Fairfax Times]
Officials: Avoid Va. Travel Today — If you had been planning on driving to parts of central, western or southern Virginia today, VDOT and Virginia State Police want you to consider delaying your travel due to snowy conditions. [VDOT, InsideNova]
Hedgehogs May Be Legalized in Fairfax — “Chinchillas, hedgehogs and hermit crabs are one step closer to legalized pet status in Fairfax County. The Fairfax County Planning Commission [on Thursday] approved changing the definition of commonly accepted pets to include all three.” [Reston Now]
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) has introduced a bill that would nix the Trump administration’s strict new limits on refugee resettlement in the U.S.
Connolly, who represents Tysons and Vienna in Congress, said in a statement that “Congress has a moral responsibility to stand up to the President and let the world know we are still a welcoming and compassionate nation.”
More from a press release:
Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Vice Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was joined by 60 members in introducing the Lady Liberty Act, legislation to reverse the Trump administration’s recent actions to severely limit refugee resettlement in the United States.
“The Trump administration is once again slamming the door on refugees,” Connolly said. “Against a record high global refugee crisis, the Trump administration’s record-low refugee admissions cap is dangerous and un-American. The Lady Liberty Act will reverse this callous backslide and restore America’s leadership role in refugee resettlement.”
“No one chooses to be a refugee,” Connolly said. “These people are seeking safety and a better life. Congress has a moral responsibility to stand up to the President and let the world know we are still a welcoming and compassionate nation.”
The Lady Liberty Act would require the President to set a goal of admitting no less than 110,000 refugees annually. Under the administration’s recent action, refugee resettlements would be capped at 30,000 refugees in fiscal year 2019, down from 45,000 this year. Since 1980, the U.S. has resettled more than 3 million refugees and set an average annual goal of 95,000 refugee admissions. The previous low ceiling for refugee resettlement in the U.S. was 67,000, set by President Reagan in 1986. There are currently 25 million refugees around the world.
Connolly’s legislation has been endorsed by The Alliance, CASA, Church World Service (CWS), Ethiopian Community Development Council, Family Action Network Movement (FANM), HIAS, Human Rights First, International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), International Rescue Committee (IRC), Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Veterans for American Ideals, We Are All Americans.
Photo via Facebook