Fired Miami social worker gets 1 1/2 years in prison for extorting families of refugee children

As a newly hired employee for a Miami social services agency, Leslie Rubero Padilla’s job was to reunite unaccompanied refugee children with their parents or legal guardians in the United States.

She was supposed to charge the families only for transportation, such as airfare. But authorities say Rubero shook down more than a dozen of them by insisting they had to send her additional money or the reunification with their children would be delayed — or, worse, they would be deported back to their native country in Central America.

“This case is just so shocking because this defendant preyed on the most vulnerable people,” federal prosecutor Daniel Bernstein said at Rubero’s sentencing hearing on Friday. “Why is it so offensive? She calculated that these are people I can rip off because they are not going to report it.”

The prosecutor asked U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles to send Rubero, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud in September, to prison for four years. Bernstein pointed out that she not only exploited the poor parents and guardians for a total of $11,100, but also noted: “She had legal custody of their children.”

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