Celia Perez, 40, of Jerome, pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of mail fraud during an appearance Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale in Boise.
Perez is accused of cheating Mexican immigrants seeking legal status in the United States out of thousands of dollars after posing as an immigration attorney. She offered her clients help in submitting applications to help "fix their immigration problems" and "make the immigration process go faster," according to court documents.
Perez is not listed as an attorney in Idaho, according to an online directory maintained by the Idaho State Bar.
Dale agreed Wednesday to release Perez from custody but banned her from using a computer or accessing the Internet. She was also ordered to surrender her passport and to have no contact with witnesses in the case. She must remain in Idaho and wear a monitoring device.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Whatcott told the judge such stringent measures were necessary to ensure no other people are victimized.
"There is concern this defendant, if released, would return to the criminal activity that led to this indictment," Whatcott said.
Additional charges are under consideration, Whatcott told the judge. Outside of court, he declined to say whether there may be additional victims.
Dick Rubin, the chief Boise federal defender, said Perez has lived nearly her entire life in Idaho and is not a flight risk. He said she knew she was under investigation and could be apprehended, and that she gave herself up when she was indicted.
Rubin told the judge she would not have any trouble abiding by the prohibition against computer use because the government confiscated all of her computers as part of the investigation.
The government alleges that Perez's scheme began in December 2006, when she contacted a family in Mexico and said she could help them obtain permanent resident status for their daughter, who was living in the Los Angeles area.
Perez allegedly wrote back and forth to the woman for more than six years, collecting fees for services and to supposedly pay application fees to the U.S. government. In all, the family paid her $11,300, the government alleges.
For a second family in Arizona, prosecutors say Perez promised to help a woman with an immigrant visa. That family paid her $19,365 between 2012 and earlier this year.
Perez is scheduled to go to trial Dec. 9.