Feds arrest woman in Ancramdale for visa scam

ANCRAMDALE—Federal authorities came to this tiny hamlet March 13 to arrest the owner of Mountain Top Farm Inc. on visa fraud charges.

Maria Luisa Estrella Jaidi, 60, of Bronxville was charged on a complaint along with her brother, Ramon Singson Estrella, 55, of Manila, Philippines, for their involvement in a conspiracy to commit visa fraud, make materially false statements and induce aliens to illegally come to, enter and reside in the United States, according to a press release from Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Christian J. Schurman, director of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) at the United States Department of State.

Ms. Jaidi was arrested in Ancramdale last Wednesday and was to appear that afternoon in White Plains federal court before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul E. Davison. Her brother remains at large.

The complaint, unsealed in White Plains federal court, alleges:

From about 2006 up to 2016, Ms. Jaidi and Mr. Estrella conspired with an individual not named as a defendant in the complaint “to fraudulently procure visas for at least seven Filipino domestic workers.” The individual, not named in the complaint or by authorities “is a diplomatic agent accredited to the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations with the rank of ambassador.” From about 1980 through about 2016, the ambassador and Ms. Jaidi were married, the release says.

To fraudulently obtain visas for the domestic workers, Ms. Jaidi and her husband made the workers “submit visa applications containing materially false statements and to submit fraudulent employment contracts in support of those visa applications.”

Mr. Estrella, who resides in the Philippines, helped recruit several of the workers there to work for Ms. Jaidi and her ambassador husband in the U.S. and instructed them to make false statements on their visa applications and to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, the release says.

Mr. Estrella, Ms. Jaidi and her husband “caused five of the domestic workers to falsely state in their visa applications that they would be employed as secretaries, administrative assistants, or technicians at the Moroccan Mission or at the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Morocco in Manhattan.

The trio also allegedly coerced the workers “to submit fraudulent employment contracts to the State Department in support of their visa applications.” The fraudulent employment contracts overstated the workers’ salaries, understated their hours, and falsely guaranteed benefits, including, sick leave, dental insurance and medical insurance, said the release.

When the workers arrived in U.S., Ms. Jaidi and the ambassador employed the workers as their personal drivers, domestic helpers, farmhands and assistants at their residence in Bronxville and at their farm in Ancramdale.

Mountain Top Farm at 3438 Route 82, Ancramdale, is described at https://www.weddingwire.com as “a wedding venue located in the Hudson Valley area of New York. They are a working miniature horse breeding facility on a private estate in Ancramdale, New York — only two hours from New York City. Mountain Top Farm has panoramic views of the Berkshire Mountains and more than 240 acres of rolling hills. Their tree-line trails and pond are a beautiful background for a ceremony and reception.”

Two parcels associated with Mountain Top Farm and Ms. Jaidi are listed on the 2018 final Ancram assessment roll. The two parcels, 191.74 and 50.49 acres, are listed at a full market value of just over $2 million.

The property, much of it located on a hill overlooking the Ancramdale hamlet is known by local residents as “the mansion,” or “the castle,” and was once dubbed the “Chateau de Ancramdale” in a big city newspaper article.

According to the unsealed complaint, Ms. Jaidi and the ambassador paid the Filipino “workers significantly less than the minimum salary required by law and regularly compelled them to work far in excess of 40 hours per week.” The workers were denied the benefits set forth in their employment contracts, were compelled to work seven days a week, and were required to surrender their passports.

Ms. Jaidi and her brother are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and make materially false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years, and one count of conspiracy to induce aliens to illegally come to, enter, and reside in the U.S., which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, the release said.

This case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office White Plains Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sam Adelsberg and Gillian Grossman are in charge of the prosecution.

Burn ban runs now through May 14

ALBANY—With spring approaching conditions for wildfires will become heightened and residential brush burning is prohibited now through May 14 across New York State.

While many people associate wildfires with the western United States, the start of spring weather and the potential for dry conditions increases the risk for wildfires in New York.”

The state “prohibits residential burning during the coming high-risk fire season to reduce wildfires and protect people, property, and natural resources. The ban has been extremely effective in reducing the number of wildfires, and we’re encouraging New Yorkers to put safety first.” State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a press release.

Even though much of the state is currently blanketed in snow, warming temperatures can quickly cause wildfire conditions to arise.

DEC posts daily a fire danger rating map and forecast during fire season on its website and on the NY Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife App available on DEC’s website. Currently, wildfire conditions in the state are low risk.

Historically, open burning of debris is the largest single cause of spring wildfires in New York State. When temperatures are warmer and the past fall’s debris, dead grass and leaves dry out, wildfires can start and spread easily and be further fueled by winds and a lack of green vegetation.

The state first enacted strict restrictions on open burning in 2009 to help prevent wildfires and reduce air pollution. State regulations allow residential brush fires in towns with fewer than 20,000 residents during most of the year, but prohibit such burning in spring, when most wildfires in New York occur. Since the ban was established, the eight-year annual average number of spring fires decreased by 42.6% from 2,649 in 2009 to 1,521 in 2018.

Campfires using charcoal or untreated wood are allowed, but people should never leave such fires unattended and must extinguish them. Burning garbage or leaves is prohibited year-round.

Violators of the state’s open burning regulation are subject to both criminal and civil enforcement actions, with a minimum fine of $500 for a first offense. To report environmental law violations call 1-800-TIPP DEC (1-800-847-7332) or report online on DEC’s website.

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