The New York Law Journal by Mark Hamblett - July 15, 2009
Former Manhattan Civil Court Judge Salvador Collazo was arrested early yesterday morning by federal authorities for a conspiracy to commit visa fraud and overcharge clients.
Mr. Collazo, a Bronx-based immigration practitioner who was removed from the bench in 1998 for passing a lewd note about a female law intern and then lying about it to a judicial screening committee, was arrested shortly after 6 a.m. He is accused of filing false statements with immigration authorities and bilking aliens with excessive fees. Mr. Collazo was arraigned yesterday before Southern District Magistrate Judge James C. Francis. He pleaded not guilty and was released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond. Mr. Collazo and his lawyers, Kenneth Law of New Rochelle and Jorge Sorote of Manhattan, declined to comment on the charges as they left arraignment court. Mr. Collazo, 61, was charged in a superceding indictment as part of an immigration fraud investigation that led to charges last year against a paralegal in his office, Dalia Preldakaj, 51. Two immigrants who overstayed their B-2 visitor visas cooperated with the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in bringing the case against Ms. Preldakaj. Among the allegations in the original complaint, Ms. Preldakaj in July 2005 told the victims that it would take $20,000 for their entire family to obtain employment authorization documents as part of the application process. She also allegedly told the victims they would have to pay $9,000 in cash to cover penalties for being in the country illegally, when, in fact, there were no financial penalties imposed on illegal aliens who applied for green cards or employment authorization documents. The superceding indictment announced yesterday charges Ms. Preldakaj and Mr. Collazo with a conspiracy beginning in 2000 to submit false statements and documents to immigration authorities and charging aliens excessive fees. It states that they either failed to submit the requisite paperwork or submitted "incomplete or otherwise deficient applications." They are both charged with substantive counts of charging excessive fees and submitting false statements or documents. Mr. Collazo was charged with a single count of submitting false information to immigration authorities on Nov. 11, 2005. Ms. Preldakaj is charged with two counts of money laundering.
Mr. Collazo was elected to New York Civil Court in 1991 and was designated an acting Supreme Court justice two years later. In 1998, the New York Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Collazo's removal from the bench by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which found that while in his robing room in 1993 he had passed a lewd note to a court attorney about an intern and then later suggested to the intern that she remove her top. In May 1995, Mr. Collazo was nominated by then-Governor George E. Pataki to fill an interim vacancy on the Bronx Supreme Court. He was accused by the commission of lying about the incident with the intern and concealing the fact of the commission's investigation when he filled out a questionnaire for the governor's judicial screening committee. Despite being repeatedly pressed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was reviewing his nomination for the interim judgeship, he failed to provide the necessary waiver of confidentiality until the day before his scheduled confirmation hearing, the commission said in its 1997 report. It said that when the counsel for the committee finally reached Mr. Collazo and asked whether there were any "complaints," "admonitions" or other "problems" with his nomination, he replied, "No," even though he knew he was the subject of a pending investigation by the conduct commission In its opinion upholding the sanction of removal, the Court of Appeals said that while the judge's "ribald note and indelicate suggestion" would not alone warrant removal, Mr. Collazo's "misconduct is magnified here by a pattern of evasive, deceitful and outright untruthful behavior, evidencing a lack of fitness to hold judicial office." In the Matter of Hon. Salvador Collazo, 668 N.Y.S.2d 997 (1998). The case of Mr. Collazo and Ms. Preldakaj, United States v. Preldakaj, S2 08 Cr. 1054, is before Judge Shira Scheindlin, who has scheduled a 3 p.m. conference for today.