Illegal immigrant pleads guilty in Kaweah case

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By Roxanna Hegeman -- Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - An illegal immigrant charged in the government's case against the Kaweah Indian Nation told a federal judge April 14 that he falsely claimed he was a U.S. citizen.

Jaime Cervantes was the first defendant to plead guilty in the government's prosecution of a Wichita group that claims to be an American Indian tribe. The Kaweah Indian Nation is charged in an alleged scheme to sell tribal memberships to illegal immigrants under the guise the documents would grant them U.S. citizenship.

Cervantes pleaded guilty April 14 to a single count of submitting an application June 8, 2007, for an original Social Security card in which he falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen. In return for his plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of time served and agreed to dismiss another related count against him.

U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown set sentencing for June 30.

Federal prosecutors initially charged the Kaweah Indian Nation and a dozen people in September 2007. Charges against one defendant, Raynal Williams, were subsequently dropped at the request of prosecutors.

Prosecutors contend the Kaweah Indian Nation, which is not a federally recognized tribe, marketed memberships to legal and illegal immigrants by saying the documents conferred U.S. citizenship and would allow immigrants to obtain other documents and benefits, including Social Security cards.

The BIA ruled in 1984 that the Kaweah group had no historical link to American Indian tribes. The bureau also ruled that the group's leader, Malcolm L. Webber, also known as Grand Chief Thunderbird IV, is not an Indian.

Prosecutors indicted the Kaweah group on nine counts, including harboring illegal aliens, possession of false documents with intent to defraud the United States, conspiracy and producing false identification documents.

The suspected pitch to immigrants by the Kaweah became public when the Nebraska Mexican-American Commission posted a warning on its Web site. The commission said that church members from several Nebraska cities reported being approached by tribal representatives.

The case against the Kaweah Indian Nation and the remaining 10 defendants, including Webber, is scheduled to go to trial Aug. 5.

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