Russians Accused of Asylum Fraud

PHILADELPHIA — A group of Russian-born immigrants made $3 million helping 380 asylum-seekers file bogus applications over a four-year period, federal authorities said.

David Lynn, 33, posed as an immigration lawyer and coached Russians on how to claim persecution on religious, sexual orientation or other grounds, prosecutors said Tuesday.

He charged $8,000 per person or $10,000 to $12,000 per family, according to officials, who said they found $560,000 in cash and two gold bars hidden in the floorboards of Lynn's home in Pennsylvania during a 2007 raid.

Federal authorities also moved to retain more than $1.3 million in seized cash and other assets, including funds kept in a Swiss bank account.

Despite a reputation that spread through the Russian community in Philadelphia and the surrounding area, only a handful of the applicants actually obtained asylum.

Acting U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid said Lynn and his underlings exploited the asylum process — which she called "one of the cornerstones of the American immigration system" — for profit.

"This fraud was about nothing more than money," Magid said.

Lynn, who came to the United States from Israel, ran a supposed translation service that attracted asylum seekers from the Philadelphia area and beyond. He claimed to be a lawyer but had no such training, officials said.

While most of the clients were from Russia, others were from Ukraine, Poland and elsewhere. The green-card seekers were coached to tell immigration officials that they feared persecution for being Baptist, Jewish, a Jehovah's Witness or gay, authorities said.

Clients dissatisfied with the process ultimately tipped off authorities to the operation, Magid said.

The defendants include Lynn, who lived in Holland, Pennsylvania; his father-in-law, Yevgeny Zemlyansky, 61, of Feasterville; Ilya Zherelyev, 46, of Philadelphia; Anatoly Zagrinichny, 62, of Philadelphia; Akbar Kadirov, 54, of Philadelphia; and Nelly Katsman, 41, of Holland.

Lawyer Anna Durbin, who represents Zemlyansky, was in court and did not immediately return a request for comment. Zagrinichny's lawyer, Trevan Borum, declined to comment.

The defendants were expected to make initial appearances in federal court in Philadelphia this week.

Lynn, also known as David Waisman, has not yet been arrested, but prosecutors said Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials knew of his whereabouts. He is in the United States illegally, they said.

The other defendants are naturalized citizens or legal permanent residents, authorities said.