Wichita A pastor ensnared in the federal prosecution of a group that claims to be an American Indian tribe was sentenced Tuesday to time served for falsely claiming he was a U.S. citizen to get a Social Security card.
Jaime Cervantes, 45, who had already served nine months, was handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation to Mexico. He was arrested in September as part of the prosecution of the Kaweah Indian Nation and its self-proclaimed chief, Malcolm Webber, in an alleged scam to sell tribal memberships to immigrants under the guise that the documents would give them U.S. citizenship.
Investigators now believe that between 10,000 and 15,000 immigrants in at least 15 states were defrauded into buying tribal memberships in the group, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson said.
"Once this case was filed, we saw a dramatic drop off in that activity," Anderson said.
Cervantes, who pleaded guilty in April, was the first defendant in the case to be convicted.
His 19-year-old daughter, Noa Cervantes, told The Associated Press that her father believed Webber's claims that those who joined the tribe would essentially be "reborn" as U.S. citizens.
"My client is more of a victim in this case than a witness," Cervantes' attorney, Roger Falk, said after Tuesday's hearing.
Noa Cervantes said that Webber had come to her father's church, Pentecostal United Hispanic, to preach and tell church members about an opportunity "only for Christians" to become U.S. citizens through membership in his tribe.
"My father believed he was a man of God," she said in Spanish. "He deceived him and all the Christians in the church."
When Webber spoke at the church, Cervantes and his wife were in the country legally under a 10-year work visa that expired in September 2007, Falk said. Cervantes paid $200 to enroll the family as tribal members, Noa Cervantes said.
Anderson said that the government has heard similar accounts from others about Webber.
Jaime Cervantes will likely be deported in two to three weeks. The trial for the remaining 10 defendants charged in the Kaweah Indian case is scheduled for Aug. 5.