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The case against immigration lawyer Robert Porges, who is charged with aiding smugglers in illegally bringing Chinese aliens into the country, will be based on surveillance, mountains of documents seized from his law firm, and the testimony of alleged smugglers who have become government witnesses. On Monday Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Biben told Judge Denise Cote of the Southern District of New York that the government’s case also will depend on the files of eight different aliens to support the charge that Porges, 62, and his accomplices conspired to commit serial asylum fraud by falsifying documents. The assistance of smugglers who were arrested in the long-running investigation, Biben said, will be an important part of the proof in the most explosive charge in the 44-count indictment unsealed last week: that the Porges firm helped smugglers, known as “snakeheads,” in taking some aliens hostage to ensure the payment of a $40,000 to $50,000 passage fee to the United States. “As to the smuggling and hostage-taking, we will rely on cooperating witnesses — from smugglers who were co-conspirators to aliens who were smuggled,” Biben said. He added that there was “an ongoing undercover operation in which tapes were made,” in addition to “physical surveillance,” and “substantial documentary evidence.” In addition, Porges, his wife Sheery Lu Porges, and two others charged in the case gave post-arrest statements to investigators. Moreover, 500 boxes of documents were seized from Porges’ offices on the day of his arrest last week. Biben also said “between $500,000 and $600,000 in cash” was found at the Porgeses’ Stamford, Conn., home, and another $1.6 million was seized from a safe deposit box. Mrs. Porges, 47, whom prosecutors called the “chief of staff” at the law firm, was still seeking release from custody yesterday, with several friends and former clients coming forward to pledge their homes as security. She is accused of aiding the kidnapping of 17 aliens since 1997. “She is a loving wife and mother,” defense attorney Nicholas G. Kaizer told Cote. “She plans to fight these charges.” While Mr. Porges is not accused of assisting in the kidnappings, his case is unique because it is the first time a lawyer has been charged with racketeering in connection with immigration fraud. It is also the first time members of a law firm have been accused of actually participating in the smuggling of aliens and subsequent hostage-taking. But the case is also noteworthy because of its scale: the Porges firm is accused of earning more than $13 million by falsifying at least 6,000 asylum applications over the past seven years. Five other people, including paralegals at the Porges firm, were also charged. Nonetheless, the allegations were greeted with a shrug by one veteran immigration lawyer who pointed to the Golden Venture incident. The Golden Venture was a freighter that became stranded on a sand bar just a few miles from New York City in 1993. Mr. Porges represented the lion’s share of the 286 illegal Chinese immigrants found trapped aboard the Golden Venture. “This was absolutely no surprise to anyone who works in this area of immigration law,” said the lawyer, who declined to be identified. “When there are almost 300 people on the ship, and [Mr. Porges] represents 250 of them, well, they didn’t all look on the same page in the Yellow Pages.” Cyrus D. Mehta, chairman of the Committee on Immigration and Nationality Law of the Association of the Bar of the City New York, declined to address specific allegations against Mr. Porges, whom he said was not particularly visible in the immigration bar. But Mehta said he believed that the problem of lawyers filing unfounded asylum claims “is certainly not widespread among established lawyers and law firms.” Jules Coven of Bretz & Coven, who has been representing Chinese immigrants for 35 years, said that one common scenario is for a smuggled alien to head immediately to a travel agency in Chinatown. The travel agency will assist the alien in assembling his “story” for the asylum application — the kind of coaching that the Porges firm is accused of — and then contact a lawyer. These attorneys, known in the trade as “$100-a-day lawyers,” will meet the alien only briefly before a court appearance. “Sometimes the quality of representation by the lawyers referred by travel agencies defies description,” Coven said. “It’s terrible.” But there are two things about the government’s case against Porges that strike Coven as wrong. Mr. Porges is accused of arranging bail for smuggled aliens and then having someone in his firm, such as Mrs. Porges, tell the snakeheads where the alien could be found after his release. The snakeheads, it is alleged, would then take the aliens hostage and keep them in servitude until the passage is paid. “If you speak to 95 percent of the people who are smuggled in, they are not forced to work — they work to send money back home,” Coven said. “That business about people being slaves or being farmed out to restaurants, that’s just the spin the government would like to put on all the cases.” The allegations also appear to run contrary to a case that Mr. Porges handled in Seattle. In 1995, he represented a 16-year-old Chinese girl who had been kidnapped by smugglers from a foster home in Washington State. Mr. Porges said he knew of two other teenagers who were abducted from foster homes, and he passed that information on to law enforcement officials. “He has assisted the F.B.I. in several investigations,” Kaizer, the defense lawyer, said. Coven also said there should be no negative connotation attached to the allegation that Mr. Porges arranged for the travel of aliens back to New York following their release. He said further that prosecutors should consider that it is hard sometimes for a lawyer to know that a person purporting to be a relative showing up at a bail hearing may actually be a snakehead intent on collecting the passage fee. “Basically, anyone who gets someone out of custody helps with travel,” he said. “And a smuggler doesn’t carry a sign on the front of his shirt that says ‘snakehead.’ “ Coven, who represents a dozen aliens who are former clients of Mr. Porges, said that in his experience, the Porges firm did “a better job” than most in handling immigration matters. And the lawyer whose suspicions were raised by the ability of Mr. Porges to attract clientele from the Golden Venture said, “He had quality lawyers working for him — and they didn’t do a bad job in court.”

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