Owner of Chinatown Travel Agency Pleads Guilty, Sentenced to Jail in Connection with Citizenship, Airline Ticket Schemes
Ordered to Pay $88,555 in Restitution to Victims
BOSTON – A Chinatown travel agency owner has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to jail in connection with stealing more than $88,000 from multiple clients in schemes involving U.S. citizenship applications and airline tickets, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today. She was also ordered to pay $88,555 in restitution to victims.
“This defendant, in two different schemes, exploited the trust placed in her from members of her community and stole tens of thousands of dollars from the many affected victims,” AG Coakley said. “Through today’s sentence, she is being held accountable and will also be required to pay restitution to those victims. We would like to thank the Chinese Progressive Association for bringing this case forward and for their invaluable assistance throughout this investigation and prosecution.”
May Woo Lei (“Woo”), age 41, of Boston, pleaded guilty today in Suffolk Superior Court to charges of Larceny over $250 of a Person Sixty or Over (6 counts) and Larceny over $250 (21 counts). After the plea was entered, Superior Court Judge Charles J. Hely sentenced Woo to two-and-a-half years in the House of Correction, with 18 months to serve and the balance suspended for a probationary period of 10 years. While on probation, Woo is prohibited from engaging in the travel business or accepting money for travel tickets or reservations and from advising people regarding citizenship or immigration issues. Judge Hely also ordered her to pay $88,555 in restitution to the victims. Imposition of the committed portion of her sentence is stayed until November 12.
Through her business, Sky Energy Travel, Inc., Woo took money from clients in exchange for help with citizenship applications but failed to deliver those services, and also misled certain clients regarding airline tickets they paid her for and failed to deliver valid tickets.
Woo operated Sky Energy Travel, a travel agency located in the Chinatown section of Boston. In addition to booking air travel, Woo also presented herself as able to assist people in obtaining U.S. citizenship. In June 2012, the AG’s Office began an investigation after receiving numerous complaints about the business, many of which were referred by the Chinese Progressive Association.
Woo persuaded Chinese resident immigrants that, for a fee, she would help them apply for and attain U.S. citizenship despite the fact that they did not meet the English language requirement. Woo assured many of those clients that she would arrange for a doctor to issue a certification that would waive the English requirement for them and also promised to help translate at their citizenship interviews.
However, none of the victims received notifications from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that their applications had been received, and USCIS verified that no applications were filed in the names of any of the victims. Sixteen victims were defrauded of a total of more than $53,000 between November 2009 and February 2012 as a result of this scheme.
In addition, Woo falsely assured victims who paid for airline tickets that they had valid tickets or that she would be getting them tickets shortly. The victims later discovered that tickets had never been purchased or that their flight reservations had been cancelled by the ticket wholesalers for non-payment by Woo. Woo also took one client’s credit card information before persuading him to pay by check instead, and then charged the tickets to his credit card in addition to cashing the check. Woo defrauded travel clients of a total of more than $42,000 between February and July 2012 and in one incident in 2010.
Suffolk County Special Grand Juries returned indictments against Woo on November 5, 2012 and on April 1, 2013. She was arraigned on November 21, 2012 and on April 8, 2013 in Suffolk Superior Court. She pleaded guilty today and was sentenced to jail and ordered to pay restitution.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Molly Parks, of AG Coakley’s Fraud and Financial Crimes Division. This case was investigated by State Police assigned to the AG’s Office and Division Chief Sallyann Nelligan and Investigator Marco DePalma of the AG’s Financial Investigations Division. Victim Witness Advocates Ashley Cinelli and Amber Foley of the AG’s Victim Services Division also assisted in this case. USCIS and the Chinese Progressive Association provided extensive assistance in this matter.