September 10th, 2007 03:04 EST
self-described Indian Chief Busted
WICHITA, Kan. --A man who called himself "Chief Thunderbird IV" was charged in federal court here Friday with devising a fraudulent scheme to obtain U.S. citizenship papers for illegal aliens by having them claim to be members of a so-called Indian tribe. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other federal and local agencies are investigating this case.
Malcolm L. Webber, 69, Wichita, Kan., was scheduled to appear in federal district court in Wichita Friday on one count of attempting to defraud the federal government, one count of harboring aliens who were illegally in the United States, and one count of possessing false identification documents with intent to defraud the United States.
The complaint filed Friday morning states that the Bureau of Indian Affairs previously determined that Webber is not a Native American Indian, and his so-called Kaweah Indian Nation is not an Native American Indian tribe.
"Reports are coming in from Social Security offices, drivers license bureaus and law enforcement agencies in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Michigan, California and other states that foreign nationals are showing up with documents purchased from Mr. Webber," said U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren. "They're offering such documents as proof they are U.S. citizens. They're seeking Social Security cards, driver's licenses and other forms of identification to which they claim they are entitled."
Melgren said more than 300 sets of documents from the so-called Kaweah tribe had been submitted to the Social Security office in Wichita by people claiming to be U.S. citizens.
"There will always be opportunists who try to exploit and profit from others," said Sheila O'Neill, assistant special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Kansas City, Mo. "Naturalizing is the only way for non-citizens to become U.S. citizens. Anyone who makes any other claim defrauds his customers and the U.S. government." O'Neill oversees the states of Kansas and Missouri.
According to the complaint, Webber and his representatives actively market memberships in the so-called tribe throughout the United States. "Thousands of completed applications with photographs and money orders ranging in amounts from $50 to $500 were seized from Mr. Webber's office in Wichita," Melgren said.
ICE and other federal agents executed a search warrant Thursday at Webber's office at 5512 W. Central, Suites A and D in Wichita.
"They seized $300,000 from a bank account bearing the name of the Kaweah Indian Nation," Melgren said.
According to the complaint, Webber created the organization that he calls the Kaweah Indian Nation, solicited others to sell memberships and told Hispanic pastors and other Spanish speakers that Kaweah membership conferred U.S. citizenship. He said that buyers would be entitled to obtain official U.S. Social Security accounts and documents reflecting their status as citizens.
According to Bureau of Indian Affairs' records, the agency in 1984 denied Webber's request for federal recognition of his Kaweah Indian Nation organization. The letter of denial stated that Webber was a "non-Indian" and that his organization had "no characteristics of an Indian Tribe which has maintained tribal relations from historical times."
If convicted, Webber faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison without parole and a fine up to $250,000 on the charge of possessing false identification documents with intent to defraud the United States; a maximum penalty of 10 years without parole and a fine up to $250,000 on the charge of harboring illegal aliens and a maximum penalty of 5 years without parole and a fine up to $250,000 on the charge of conspiring to defraud the United States.
Agencies participating in the investigation include:
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General
- Wichita Police Department
- Diplomatic Security Service of the U.S. Department of State
- Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs' Office of Inspector General
- and U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson is prosecuting.
As in any criminal case, a person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. The indictments filed merely contain allegations of criminal conduct.
Last year, ICE removed more than 197,100 illegal aliens; approximately 45 percent were criminal aliens.