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New York Lawyer Charged With Racketeering, Aiding Immigrant Smugglers

Aired September 21, 2000 - 1:07 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Immigration cases out of China were Robert Porges' specialty. Today, however, that prominent New York attorney is the subject of an historic federal indictment. Prosecutors claim that instead of representing individuals who wanted to start new lives in America, Porges instead was smuggling slaves.

Here's CNN's Maria Hinojosa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Robert Porges headed one of the largest immigration law firms. But after his arrest and arraignment on Wednesday, a shaken Porges was the one in need of an attorney.

NICHOLAS KAISER, PORGES' ATTORNEY: We're confident, after a speedy trial, the evidence will show that Mr. Porges represented his clients honestly and ethically for over 40 years. That's it. Thank you.

HINOJOSA: Porges, his wife and six others are accused of racketeering and fraud. Another former employee is charged with aiding immigrant smugglers.

MARY JO WHITE, U.S. ATTORNEY: The racketeering enterprise was in name a law firm, but in reality functioned as a multimillion-dollar assembly line factory for immigration fraud and assistance to snakehead alien smugglers.

HINOJOSA: But that's exactly what Harvard-educated attorney Robert Porges allegedly did. From his downtown office, he's charged with teaming up with smugglers, also known as "snakeheads," to secure the release of undocumented immigrants like these by filing false claims for political asylum. Once released, he delivered them back to the smugglers for a life of indentured servitude.

WHITE: This is the first time that the federal racketeering laws have been used to charge that a law firm has operated as a criminal enterprise involving alien smuggling and kidnaping, as well as immigration fraud.

HINOJOSA: At an immigrants rights group in Chinatown, the name Porges was familiar. So, too, was the human cost of his work aiding smugglers.

WING LAM, CHINESE STAFF AND WORKERS ASSOCIATION: This lawyer is benefit from this -- all this sweatshop, inhumane working conditions.

HINOJOSA: Porges' ad in Asian newspapers show his Chinese name, "Bao Chac Si" (ph), which means "honorable gentleman." In the Asian community, his name was less than honorable.

STANLEY MARK, ASIAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: There's word on the street among people in the community that they are somehow associated or representative of organized crime for the smugglers specifically.

HINOJOSA: Those charged breaking any preconceived notion of what immigrant smugglers look like.

DORIS MEISSNER, INS COMMISSIONER: This case has taken a long three years. Manhattan attorneys in three-piece suits do not typically come to mind when the public pictures the criminals who traffic in human cargo.

HINOJOSA (on camera): Robert Porges faces 175 years in prison. But in Chinatown, there was little pity for a man who could have helped desperate immigrants but who instead allegedly forced them deeper into debt and into lives of indentured servitude.

Maria Hinojosa, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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