A lawyer for a woman federally charged with providing false information in the application and use of her U.S. passport says her client was unaware any crime occurred.
Elena Tauler, the lawyer representing Sara Mamani, said her client “never thought they would actually be doing something that was illegal and that she would be blamed.”
Mamani’s pending legal case comes after Mamani years ago moved from Cusco, Peru, to South Florida, where she says she worked as a nanny for a family and a man she trusted: Johnny Rodriguez.
The government says Rodriguez for a decade had guarded U.S. Southern Command in Doral. But Rodriguez is now behind bars, sentenced to prison in a sexual battery case, state records show.
Mamani says that the Rodriguez couple prepared forms for her to drop off a U.S. passport application at a Doral post office.
Johnny Rodriguez couldn’t be reached for comment despite NBC 6’s sending a letter to him at the prison.
Rodriguez’s estranged wife told NBC 6 that she believed Mamani had documents to legally be in the United States.
She denied any fraud, saying she didn’t know what enabled Mamani to get a passport.
Mamani showed NBC 6 pictures with the Rodriguez family. She says that with her visa expired, Johnny Rodriguez directed her to begin posing as someone else— his sister, a U.S. citizen born in Puerto Rico.
Mamani says they sent her to language school and said Rodriguez gave her his sister’s birth certificate, and that the couple prepared the forms for her to drop off at the post office.
Federal prosecutors say that Mamani “did willfully and knowingly make a false statement in an application for a U.S. passport.” And they say that Rodriguez stated to federal agents that the woman on the passport application was not his sister, but was the former nanny to his household.
Mamani claims the Southern Command security officer took her on a Navy vessel and to other military activities, all while military personnel thought she was someone else.
Attorney Steven Befera is a former Marine familiar with military-security procedures.
“As we saw in the General Petraeus case, any time there is a potential breach of security like this, there is an opportunity for blackmail, coercion, sensitive information may be divulged,” Befera said.
Southern Command told NBC 6 it wasn’t aware of any immigration fraud issues with Rodriguez.