Saturday, July 20, 2024

Wilmington attorney accused of visa fraud to be sentenced next year

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Former Wilmington attorney Roydera Hackworth pled guilty to visa fraud last week. Hackworth, 63, allegedly impersonated another attorney while submitting immigration-related documents for clients, despite being suspended from practicing law since 2012. 

Hackworth is scheduled to be sentenced in January. The allegations that she forged another attorney’s name on immigration documents sprang from an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations and other federal agencies, according to a Department of Justice press release. 

For financial issues, specifically “mismanagement of entrusted funds,” Hackworth had her law license suspended in 2012 by the N.C. State Bar. During the term of that suspension, she allegedly signed the name “Omowunmi Williams Odedere” on a client’s application for naturalization and a notice of entry of appearance as attorney. 

Hackworth held a law office in Greensboro, and a press release stated she is based in Wilmington. In the federal case against her, Hackworth is represented by former New Hanover County Commissioner and defense attorney Woody White.

“Mrs. Hackworth has accepted responsibility for her actions and respects the judicial process,” White told Port City Daily in a statement. “She will have no further comment.”

Hackworth was disbarred in July, when she surrendered her license. 

“I am aware that there is a pending investigation against me by the State Bar regarding allegations that after the effective date of my suspension by the State Bar in August 2012, I continued to engage in the unauthorized practice of law, forged the name of Omowunmi Odedere to immigration petitions filed with the Department of Homeland Security, and held myself out as being able to practice law to clients without disclosing that I had been suspended by the State Bar,” according to an affidavit signed by Hackworth in July. 

Hackworth earned admission to the state bar in 1997. She was accused of inappropriately commingling funds in trust accounts for clients, mismanaging those funds and keeping scant records of transactions in 2012 — leading to a four-year suspension. 

In 2014 she was suspended from appearing before immigration courts and in matters related to Homeland Security. That same to year it came to light that Hackworth had been representing her nephew in the aftermath of a car crash since 2011. 

Hackworth’s nephew lived in Alabama, where the accident occurred. She ended up negotiating a settlement between her nephew and the opposing party’s insurance company in 2013, despite not being licensed in Alabama and having a suspended license in North Carolina. 

In handing down a five-year suspension in 2014 for that incident, the state bar noted Hackworth did not act selfishly or with a dishonest motive in the Alabama situation — she was simply trying to help her nephew. 

For the most recent allegations, fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents — related to forging another attorney’s name — Hackworth faces a maximum penalty of 120 months in prison. 

“Hackworth not only violated the oath of her profession and the laws of the US immigration system, but she also violated her client’s trust when she fraudulently represented them,” said Ronnie Martinez, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations operations in the Carolinas, in the press release. “Preventing the exploitation of people and protecting the integrity of the US immigration system are hallmarks of HSI’s mission.”

According to the Department of Justice, 14 attorneys based in N.C. are currently disciplined for immigration-related matters. 

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