The Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office has accused a Lyman couple of operating a business that swindled more than $52,000 from people seeking legal immigration status in the U.S.
Deputies began investigating Lorraine and Mark Stiffel and their business, Community Immigration Services, after 11 individuals and two businesses came forward claiming they were defrauded money for services that were never delivered.
Deputies executed a search warrant at the business, located at 121 Highway 29 in Lyman, Monday morning.
Mark Stiffel, 50, of 1173 Holly Springs Road, Lyman, was arrested and charged with one count of criminal conspiracy.
Investigators were still looking Monday night for Lorraine Stiffel, 51, of the same home address. She is charged with one count of unlawful practice of law, nine counts of breach of trust greater than $1,000 but less than $5,000, and four counts of breach of trust greater than $5,000.
Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Tony Ivey said the identities of the victims were not released Monday in order to protect the integrity of the investigation. He encouraged victims in this case who have not come forward to do so, even if they are worried about their immigration status, adding that the Sheriff's Office has an open-door policy when dealing with crimes against immigrants.
"We want to send a message to the community at large that we want to help you," Ivey said. "We're not going to look at someone's immigration status before we provide them law enforcement services. If you're the victim of a crime, we're here to serve you."
Miriam Torres, director of the Consortium for Latino Immigration Studies at the University of South Carolina, said crimes against immigrants are on the rise.
"People are taking advantage of these vulnerable populations," Torres said. "Latinos, in particular, think that if these businesses are offering this service, there's no reason why it is illegal."
She said the political and social climate in South Carolina has made it difficult for Latinos and other ethnic groups to come forward for fear of deportation. Cultural barriers -- the biggest one being language -- have exacerbated the situation.
"Many, many Latinos are getting robbed, as people know they keep their money because they don't trust the banks," Torres said. "The situation is very sad."
Ivey said the Sheriff's Office has implemented programs to help non-English speaking Spartanburg County residents receive emergency and law enforcement services. The county's 9-1-1 service allows dispatchers to immediately reach a translator if needed.
The desk sergeant on duty from 3 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday at the Sheriff's Office at 8045 Howard St. is fluent in Spanish.
"We don't want people to be fearful because there are still a lot of businesses out there that offer these services legally," Ivey said.