By Stephanie Sanchez / El Paso Times
EL PASO -- A woman and her son who owned a Houston-based group that smuggled Filipino teachers to several El Paso school districts, on Monday were sentenced to three months probation each, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office said.
Noel Cedro Tolentino and his mother, Florita Cedro Tolentino, were sentenced after they pleaded guilty in January to charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. of a $1.75 million house and $80,000 from five different bank accounts under both of their names were surrendered in a forfeiture order, said Daryl Fields, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton.
Charges against Noel Tolentino's wife, Angelica Tolentino, who was also implicated in the case, were dismissed Friday after she agreed to not contest the forfeiture order, he said.
All three of their lawyers could not be reached for comment Monday.
The case originally went to trial in early 2007, but U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone declared a mistrial because a couple of jury members said they had read a newspaper article about the proceedings.
A retrial was set for January, but Noel Tolentino and Florita Tolentino entered a guilty plea on charges of failing to tell the U.S. government the smuggled Filipino teachers did not have confirmed employment in America, in exchange for the dismissal of other charges. All three of the Tolentinos had been indicted on about 40 counts that included money laundering, conspiracy to smuggle immigrants and visa fraud.
The Tolentinos' company, OMNI Consortium of Houston, would take Texas school administrators on an all-expense paid trip to the Philippines. The administrators were expected to interview teachers and sign documents with intent to hire. The Tolentinos would then file for work visas and charged each Filipino teacher $10,000 for the visa.
During the trial in 2007, prosecutors described the fraud which involved school officials from Socorro, Ysleta, Canutillo, El Paso and other Texas school districts.
Prosecutors said during the 2007 trial that some Texas districts would back down on the number of teachers they needed after returning from the Philippines. Instead of canceling the teacher's work visas, the Tolentinos would continue with the process and shop the teachers at other school districts.
The U.S. Attorney's office has said 273 teachers were brought to the U.S. between 2002 and 2004, but less then 100 actually had jobs.
After the Noel Tolentino and Florita Tolentino sentencing on Monday, Noel Tolentino was detained by ICE, said Leticia Zamarripa, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson.
"He was here on some type of a work visa that had expired and that was why he was arrested on Friday," she said. She said Noel Tolentino will have to go before an immigration judge. A hearing before the judge has not been set, she said.
Stephanie Sanchez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6137.
Times reporter Ramon Bracamontes contributed to this story.