A local father says he paid more than $60,000 to an immigration services company in the hopes of bringing his fiancé and her children to the U.S. But instead of living happily ever after, he says his money and his trust are gone.
John Kotronis says he wanted to come forward to warn others about the man at the center of this, Joseph Liebman. And the 7 Investigators have learned Liebman has just been arrested again.
It was a match made from 8,000 miles away. Kotronis says he met the love of his life on online. After months of talking and texting, he flew to the Philippines to meet Jean in person.
“We were inseparable for over two weeks and by the time I left, I went to a jewelry store and I proposed in a jewelry store to her,” said Kotronis.
When he returned home to Livonia, Kotronis made it his mission to bring Jean and her two children to the U.S. Kotronis learned that his union legal services do not handle immigration work, so he says they suggested he try a business known as Michigan Immigration Services (aka Immigration Services of Michigan, aka NooJoom) that was first located in Westland but has since moved to Detroit.
And that’s where Kotronis says he met Joseph Liebman.
“He said for $7,000, I’ll take care of everything,” said Kotronis.
“So, you thought, if I give him this money, they will become citizens,” asked 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.
“Yeah, he’s going to do the whole thing, guaranteed,” said Kotronis.
But Kotronis says that $7,000 turned into demands for more and more money to apply for the visas.
In a “video receipt” provided to the 7 Investigators, Liebman said this:
“My name is Joseph Liebman, this is John Kotronis… April 30th he’s given me a total of $14,000 cash in a secured bag brought to take care of all his immigration services and transfer of paperwork. This will serve as a receipt, a verbal receipt. He received a written receipt and also get a secondary receipt when I get back from the airport.”
In all, Kotronis has receipts for more than $60,000 that he says he handed over to Liebman. To pay for that, Kotronis says he took out a second mortgage and even borrowed money from his son’s college account.
“He took everything from me, my son, my family,” said Kotronis through tears.
Kotronis says after months of getting the run around from Liebman, he finally called U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, and got some devastating news: no visa applications were ever filed.
“This guy looked on three different computers… He said, ‘your name doesn’t appear anywhere and your social security number doesn’t appear anywhere.’ After all this money, my heart just sank,” said Kotronis.
So Kotronis went to the Westland Police Department, and detectives launched an investigation.
Liebman has a lengthy criminal history that dates back to 2005. The 32-year-old is a convicted sex offender who’s gotten in trouble at least twice for failing to register his address, and he’s been found guilty of criminal impersonation. According to press reports from Connecticut, on two different occasions Liebman posed as a security guard and as a military intelligence officer in order to lure women.
Liebman also got arrested in Alabama in 2009. Police said Liebman walked into the Ozark Baptist Church claiming to be a doctor, then a paramedic, but his “nervous behavior” alerted staff there to call police.
The business address in on West Warren in Detroit is the address that Liebman has registered as both his home and work address on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry. Our cameras were rolling in late August while he was putting boxes into a truck, and a few weeks later a moving truck pulled up.
When we tried to talk to Liebman, others at that business got him on the phone.
“We want to talk to you, we want to get your side of the story,” said Catallo to Liebman on the phone.
Liebman says he can’t release information to us because of the police investigation. He also says these allegations are false. But when we asked him to provide a public case number for the alleged visa applications, Liebman refused.
Long-time immigration lawyer George Mann says that although these forms are complicated, a competent lawyer would only charge about $3,000 to $4,000 for this type of fiancé visa application.
“Your life is on the line, so go to an expert. Go to somebody who has gone through years of training and has the experience, has the reputation, you can check out every lawyer’s reputation,” said Mann.
Joseph Liebman was arrested yet again on Tuesday, this time near Adrian, MI, for unlawfully wearing an insignia badge identification. State officials tell us he was misrepresenting himself as an ICE officer.
As for the case involving John Kotronis, that is still under investigation by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office.
U.S. Immigration Officials have given us a list of suggestions to make sure you’re asking the right questions and protecting your rights when filling out visas and other immigration paperwork:
* Safeguard your personal information – including A numbers. Your A-number is as important to protect as a Social Security number!
* Research where you go for help. Only use professionals that are authorized in the United States to provide legal immigration advice: either an attorney in good standing or a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredited representative. Check the BIA for a list of attorneys [justice.gov] who provide immigration services for low to no cost and for a list of disciplined attorneys [justice.gov]. You can also check the American Bar Association [americanbar.org] or your State bar association for legal services in your state.
* Use dot-gov websites for information. Official United States government websites should be your main source of information on immigration services and benefits. Go to uscis.gov to learn more.
* Do not pay for blank USCIS forms either in person or on the Internet. Forms are free and can be downloaded at uscis.gov/forms.
* Research the application or petition you are interested in filing. Make sure you understand the eligibility requirements. Also, make sure all the information you provided for an application or petition is accurate before you sign it, especially if you had help translating or completing the form.
* Do not sign blank USCIS application or petitions forms. Be sure you understand the information and application process prior to signing forms and paying for any service.
* The only people authorized to give you legal advice on immigration are attorneys and representatives accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Attorneys and accredited representatives are the only ones authorized to:
o Explain which immigration options may be available to you;
o Advise you about which forms to submit; and
o Communicate with USCIS about your case.
* If you believe you have been the victim of a scam involving a tax preparer, please report this scam to the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
If you have a story for Heather, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 248-827-4473.