Imposter defrauds immigrants by claiming to work for Yale

Receiving promises of legal residency and the reassurance of the Yale name, numerous immigrants from around New Haven paid thousands of dollars to a man wrongly claiming to be a lawyer at the “Amnesty Law Clinic” at the Yale Law School.

Ralph Cucciniello was arrested in New York City earlier this month as part of an ongoing investigation on charges that he deceived immigrants, telling them he knew of a loophole in U.S. amnesty laws and could get them green cards and U. S. citizenship. According to the criminal court complaint filed in New York City, Cucciniello told his victims he worked at Yale and charged as much as $7,000 per person for his unfulfilled services. University officials said the defendant has never been employed by Yale.

Cucciniello allegedly met with clients since at least early 2006 at the University, telling them he was a lawyer affiliated with Yale’s Amnesty Law Clinic. But University officials said Cucciniello is not recorded as ever having worked at Yale.

“Ralph Cucciniello is not now, nor has he ever been, a paid employee or staff member of Yale Law School,” Director of Public Affairs for the Law School Janet Conroy said in an e-mail. “Apparently, he has on occasion served as a volunteer research assistant for a particular professor at the Law School, in connection with that professor’s non Law School activities … [but] he has not been authorized by the Law School to undertake any activities or represent any clients.”

According to the New York District Attorney’s Office, Cucciniello has thus far been charged with three counts of grand larceny in the third degree and one count of scheme to defraud in the first degree.

However, the investigation is ongoing, and many more victims are expected to be uncovered —news reports estimate at least 100, though officials declined to comment on specifics. New York Police Department Detective Jose Rodriguez, who is leading the investigation, could not be reached for comment.

The arrest took place at the height of the push for New Haven’s proposed municipal ID program. If passed by the Board of Aldermen on June 4, the IDs will be available to all city residents, regardless of whether they are illegal immigrants.

At a hearing before the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee last week, proponents of the ID cards said the IDs could help protect vulnerable, undocumented immigrants from crimes and make them more comfortable in coming forward about incidents of abuse.

At the hearing, Mayor John DeStefano said New Haven could counter the “silent complicity” of the federal government in forcing undocumented immigrants to live in the shadows.

”We can do that by way of a fundamental acknowledgement of an individual’s worth and dignity by giving a name to those among us,” he said. “Not to name them by a stereotype, not to name them by a prejudice, not to make them by an ignorance, rather to call our neighbors by their own name.”

Cucciniello is next set to appear in court on Aug. 15.

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