Helaman Hansen is depicted by the FBI and federal prosecutors as a man without a conscience who preyed on vulnerable undocumented immigrants hoping for a better life in America.
Despite his current occupancy of a Sacramento jail cell, the 63-year-old Hansen, who lives in Elk Grove, continues to see himself as a do-gooder, someone who worked tirelessly to help immigrants achieve their dreams.
After an investigation of more than a year by FBI and Department of Homeland Security agents, he was arrested Thursday after being indicted by a federal grand jury on 12 counts of fraud and one count of conspiracy. He entered a plea of not guilty Friday and is scheduled to be in court Wednesday seeking bail.
Hansen and an unknown number of thus-far-uncharged co-conspirators are accused of inducing more than 500 victims from coast to coast to pay a total of more than $500,000 in order to secure a status that will would relieve them of the fear of deportation, according to U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner.
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Wagner, who said it is the first and only such prosecution in the nation, said none of the victims of the scam gained citizenship.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, who said it is the first and only such prosecution in the nation, said none of the victims realized citizenship.
Hansen’s nonprofit, Americans Helping America, aims “to aid, direct, educate and to assist the (immigrant) communities with available resources and information in their daily struggle in this great country of ours,” announces one of his several websites. On another site, he describes himself as “driven by a deep relationship with God, love for the disenfranchised and undocumented international citizens of the world.”
He reports having several college degrees, including a doctorate, and calls himself “doctor.”
Through a thicket of entities he formed, Hansen and his employees have been selling “adult adoptions” with empty promises that adoption of immigrants by American citizens will lead to their achieving citizenship, according to an FBI affidavit supporting a series of search warrants issued by the federal court in Sacramento.
Adult adoptions are rare. Absent extraordinary circumstances, the law is designed to serve the best interests of children under 16.
In some instances, Hansen has been his own worst enemy, especially when he was questioned by agents on Dec. 22 while they searched his home in the 8400 block of Banyon Tree Court, according to the affidavit, filed Thursday in federal court.
The 82-page affidavit, sworn to by FBI Special Agent Brady Cowan, reports that the search yielded paper and electronic documents and records concerning the “adult-adoption-to-citizenship scheme.” The seized material includes “files relating to victims of the scheme that contain identity information, payment records, adult adoption petitions, delayed birth certificates, evidence of mail and wire transactions, and other evidence of the operation.”
Even so, some of the most incriminating evidence may have come out of Hansen’s mouth while answering agents’ questions during a recorded interview.
He told them, for example, that in 2003 he met a U.S. Supreme Court justice who explained to him the path to citizenship through adult adoption, the affidavit relates. He quoted the justice as telling him, “Listen, I want to help people ... Leave me out of it.”
“He gave me his cards and he gave me where to look at the library,” Hansen is quoted as telling the agents. “Most of the paper in California ... he was the one who created all those paperworks, the legal paperworks,” he said of the justice. He declined to identify the member of the high court by name.
Yet, later in the interview, Hansen seemingly contradicted himself by saying the law permitting his adult adoption program “is not an American law, rather a United Nations law.” He stated that “adult adoptees ‘inherit’ the citizenship of adoptive parents,” the affidavit says. He said his organization charges immigrants $7,000 to $10,000 each to lead them through the process. He added that recruiters are paid $1,500 for each immigrant they bring into the program.
Hansen at first said “hundreds” of immigrants had become citizens through his adult adoption mechanism. Later, he admitted he lied to the agents about that and further admitted he had lied to prospective customers on that same point. The affidavit says he told the agents they were “dead right,” that “zero” immigrants had attained citizenship through him. He said he lied because of his “belief and the things that sit in my heart; it’s going to work.”
Hansen blamed Jeffrey Sevier, the onetime chief executive officer of Americans Helping America, for any misconduct the agents may have detected, and said he fired Sevier, who was “taking money without following the rules and procedures of what we’re doing,” according to the affidavit.
Sevier, 55, who has not been charged, told agents the next day during a search of his home, also in Elk Grove in the 9100 block of Newport West Way, that he followed Hansen’s instructions during his four years of AHA employment.
Hansen’s organization was repeatedly successful in acquiring adult adoptions in Sacramento and Alameda Superior Courts until judges in both jurisdictions recognized obvious signs that the adoptions were not in the legitimate interests of the immigrants, according to the affidavit.
Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189