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A Spring Valley woman pleaded guilty to taking part in a multi-year scheme to falsify medical certifications while working as an advocate for immigrants seeking help in obtaining U.S. citizenship or government benefits.

Nawal Talia, 57, admitted during a hearing in federal court in San Diego that she recruited patients for National City psychologist Roberto Velasquez, who was sentenced earlier this year to 21 months in prison and ordered to repay more than $1.5 million to the Social Security Administration in the largest single restitution order in the agency’s history.

As part of her job, Talia for several years submitted documents to federal agencies on behalf of her clients, certifying that they were mentally disabled. Rather than obtain benefits legitimately, she and Velasquez worked together to falsify medical certifications and fabricate patient histories, according to prosecutors.

Talia admitted that she helped Velasquez falsify disability-exception certification forms used by the Department of Homeland Security during the naturalization process and medical letters used by the Social Security Administration to award Supplemental Security Income and disability payments. She conceded that she lied on both types of documents about the length of time her clients had been under the care of Velasquez. In one case, she certified that a patient had been treated by Velasquez for a year, when the person actually had met Velasquez only once, court papers show.

In another instance, she filed a Social Security appeal falsely certifying that a man had been treated by Velasquez for 11 months. Talia simply made up that number so he appeared to be eligible for disability benefits, when Talia knew he was not, according to court documents. Investigators established that Talia repeatedly lied about durations of treatment in order to create a “track record” that would satisfy reviewers at the Social Security Administration and immigration agencies.

The scheme came to light during an undercover operation conducted jointly by the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Office of Inspector General, Social Security Administration..