Santa Ana immigration officer convicted of taking bribes to grant legal status

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A former immigration officer who worked in the Santa Ana federal building was convicted in federal court Friday of taking bribes from Cambodian immigrants in exchange for such favors as granting immigrants temporary legal status, the U.S. Attorney's Office reported.

Billy Louis Nelms, 54, of Los Angeles was convicted on felony counts of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery and defraud the United States, said Bruce Riordan, assistant U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.

Nelms and his wife Sokhon Nelms, 60, were also convicted of witness tampering and conspiracy to witness tamper, Riordan said.

Nelms faces up to 95 years in prison while his wife faces up to 60 years, Riordan said.

According to prosecutors, Nelms worked between 2005 and 2008 as an immigration officer in the Fraud Detection and National Security Unit.

"The evidence showed that during that time, as part of the scheme, the Cambodian immigrants were promised permanent legal status," Riordan said, adding that the immigrants typically paid Nelms about $5,000 in cash and in exchange Nelms would stamp their immigration documents, giving them only temporary legal status in the U.S.

The evidence also showed that after he was indicted in June 2013, Nelms and his wife tampered with two witnesses identified in the indictment, telling one not to speak to anyone, Riordan said.

A sentencing date has not been set.