Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 4:00 pm | Updated: 5:15 pm, Wed Feb 26, 2014.

Associated Press |

CAMDEN — A Willingboro woman who allegedly filed false and fraudulent immigration petitions for clients while working as a paralegal in South Jersey has made her initial court appearance.

Maria James, 68, of Willingboro, was charged last week with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. She was released on a $50,000 bond after Wednesday's hearing in U.S. District Court, federal prosecutors said.

A telephone number for James could not be found Wednesday.

Between 2002 and June 2011, James worked from an office in Brigantine as a paralegal on immigration issues. While working at various times for three lawyers, she allegedly solicited and recruited clients for the lawyers' immigration practices, including some people who were living in the United States illegally.

James arranged for two marriages and filed numerous fraudulent immigration petitions seeking to allow her clients to obtain legal permanent-resident status, prosecutors said.

At least 22 of James' former clients have admitted that the immigration petitions submitted by her and by the attorneys for whom James worked contained false and fraudulent information, prosecutors said.

Many of the petitions were based on false claims of physical abuse by spouses against the illegal-alien clients, and contained fraudulent supporting documentation, including photographs taken by or at the direction of James, prosecutors said. She allegedly used makeup or ketchup to fake the injuries.