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Duluth attorney pleads guilty to aiding illegal immigrants

ATLANTA -- A Duluth attorney pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday for her role in trying to help at least 17 illegal aliens fraudulently obtain legal status.

Sai Hyun Lee, 63, faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 after admitting to one count of filing a false document to the United States Department of Labor.

According to authorities, Lee charged a client seeking lawful status in the United States $25,000 to substitute the client on an approved labor certificate issued to an employer, but for another foreign worker.

Though the client didn't work for the employer, and never intended to work for the employer, Lee helped the client use the certificate to become a lawful resident alien.

Acting U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement that the employer was unaware of the scheme.

According to federal law, if an employer is able to demonstrate a particular need for a foreign worker, he or she may apply to the Department of Labor for the labor certification and an immigrant visa.

Once the visa is approved and the immigrant's status changed, the worker is awarded lawful permanent residence here and is expected to begin working for the employer who petitioned to bring him or her to the United States.

Agents said Lee has used the same scheme to help at least 16 other aliens. In some cases, authorities said, the clients were unaware of their obligations to the employer.

Kenneth Smith, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Atlanta office said ICE will continue to target "unscrupulous attorneys who knowingly circumvent" immigration laws for financial gain.

According to the Georgia State Bar's Web site, Lee was admitted to the association in November 1990 and has no public disciplinary history.

Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 18, 2010, before U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr.

Lee has also agreed to forfeit $100,000 in fees she charged the 17 clients to help them submit fraudulent applications.