Adriana Ferreira, a clerk at the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Watertown, was known in the local Brazilian community as someone who could “fix things.” For a price, she told illegal immigrants, she could hook them up with driver’s licenses or even prod federal immigration officials to get their loved ones out of custody, prosecutors said.
Ferreira, 48, of Brighton, took in thousands of dollars between 2009 and 2011 and not once did she deliver, authorities said. When her clients confronted her, she threatened them by saying she would call police or US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. In some instances, she did call.
But two clients turned the tables on her, contacting authorities and agreeing to participate in a sting operation, prosecutors said.
Ferreira, who grew up in Brazil and became a naturalized citizen after arriving here in the mid-1980s, was arrested Friday morning at the Registry branch and summarily charged in Suffolk Superior Court with 27 larceny, bribery, and conspiracy charges stemming from the cases of five alleged victims.
After each charge was read, the defendant replied “not guilty, your honor.”
Prosecutors say Ferreira admitted shortly after her arrest that she had defrauded as many as 30 people because, in her words, “money was easy.”
During the arraignment, Michele Granda, assistant district attorney, held up a picture depicting Ferreira during an undercover sting on May, 16, 2011, counting several crisp bills that a client had allegedly given her as payment.
Authorities said Ferreira charged up to $4,100 per client and took in at least $8,600 in three years.
Ferreira’s case marks the second time this year that a Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicle employee was charged in connection with an alleged driver’s license scheme. In July, Vanessa Peguero, 27, of Leominster, was charged in connection with issuing driver’s licenses from 2010 to 2012 to people who presented legitimate Puerto Rican identification that was not their own, in order to conceal their identities.
The Registry declined to comment on the case.
Prior to working at the RMV, Ferreira was an account clerk in Brighton Municipal Court from 2005 to 2008 and made $37,518.80 annually at the time of her resignation, according to court officials.
“We believe she used her prior employment in the Brighton [court] clerk’s office to bolster her appearance of legal influence, but she is not charged with any offenses arising out of her employment there,’’ said Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney’s office.
Heloisa Galvao, executive director of the Brazilian Women’s Group in Allston, said illegal immigrants are often victimized by such ruses.
“It’s so easy to exploit someone who has been living in the shadows,” she said in a telephone interview. “People become desperate, they want to live a normal life, and they will pay a lot of money to get that. Unfortunately, it’s often a dishonest person they’re working with, when a lawyer is what they need.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Ferreira never worked with anyone at that agency to seek legal recourse in a case involving an illegal immigrant.
“Our message is simple — America’s legal immigration system is not for sale, and HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] will move aggressively against those who compromise the integrity of that system simply to enrich themselves,” said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of the HSI field office in Boston.
In one case, according to Granda, Ferreira stole $4,100 from a woman seeking to get her husband out of custody on an immigration detainer. The wife learned of Ferreira through word-of-mouth, and made contact with her on July 21, 2009. After paying $2,100, the wife became suspicious when Ferreira allegedly requested $2,000 more. The wife went to State Police and agreed to wear a wire in a sting operation.
After the wife paid the additional $2,000, which was provided by investigators, Ferreira allegedly told her that her husband would be released from custody at his next court hearing, but that never happened. Instead, the husband accepted voluntary departure from the United States in November 2009 and flew to Brazil a month later.
In another case, Ferreira approached a Brazilian man at the RMV who was attempting to get a driver’s license but did not have a Social Security number. She allegedly told him she could get the license for him.
The man paid her $1,100, and when he did not get the license, confronted Ferreira at her RMV window. She allegedly told him that she was not there to serve him but rather “to serve the American government.”
Ferreira then allegedly closed her window and walked away.