A former Santa Ana-based immigration officer was sentenced to more than four years in federal prison for helping Cambodian immigrants legally remain in the U.S. in exchange for bribes. Billy Louis Nelms Sr., 54, of Los Angeles, had steadfastly maintained his innocence and accused the government of persecution and prejudice before his conviction this summer.
Nelms worked in the Santa Ana federal building as an immigration officer in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Fraud Detection and National Security unit from 2005 through August 2008. Cambodian immigrants who were in the U.S. without legal status paid Nelms as much as $5,000 in cash to receive his stamps on immigration documents. Some believed Nelms was granting them permanent legal status but they only received temporary status, according to federal investigators.
Court records also indicated Nelms tried to mask his crimes by using stamps that belonged to other government officials or altered stamp numbers and, after learning of a possible criminal probe, removed at least 12 files from the immigration office. After being indicted in June of 2013, Nelms and his wife tampered with two of the witnesses in the bribery case, according to prosecutors.
As my colleague R. Scott Moxley previously reported, Nelms published a website in which he identified himself as "a proud military veteran" and Christian seeking $100,000 in public donations for "emergency" legal fees because the government filed "a lawsuit" against him after he spent 2001 to 2009 "fighting racial profiling" by other immigration officials. Here's a YouTube video from October 2013 where Nelms seeks the employment of more veterans by the immigration service:
Following a seven-day trial, Nelms on Aug. 1 was convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery and defraud the United States, bribery, conspiracy to tamper with a witness, and witness tampering. U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford late Monday sentenced Nelms to 51 months in federal prison.
"These corrupt actions challenged the integrity of an immigration system Mr. Nelms had sworn to uphold," said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura. "Mr Nelms may have believed that he was above the law, but the prison sentence imposed shows that everyone will be held accountable for their illegal actions.''
His 60-year-old wife Sokhon Nelms was found guilty of conspiracy to tamper with a witness and witness tampering for threatening two witnesses at the behest of her husband. Her sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 6.