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  1. Asplundh Tree Experts Agrees to pay $95 Million for Illegal Hiring

    BY: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    Asplundh Tree Experts has agreed to pay $95 million concerning the employment of undocumented workers. This is the largest monetary penalty ever levied by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in an immigration case. Based on Asplundh Tree Experts Company’s guilty plea in federal court, the Court imposed a sentence of $80 million forfeiture money judgment. Pursuant to a separate Civil Settlement Agreement, Asplundh will pay an additional $15 million dollars to satisfy civil claims arising out of their failure to comply with immigration law.

    Asplundh, an industry leader in tree trimming and brush clearance for power and gas lines, headquartered in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to unlawfully employing aliens, regarding a scheme in which the highest levels of Asplundh management remained willfully blind while lower level managers hired and rehired employees they knew to be ineligible to work in the United States.

    Court documents show the hiring system was developed after a 2009 I-9 inspection by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which revealed Asplundh employed workers who were ineligible to work in the country. Asplundh fired at least 100 of them, but a regional manager, Larry Gauger, later instructed supervisors to hire some of them back by accepting fake forms of identification, including permanent resident cards or Social Security cards. Gauger knew the dismissed employees within his region were being re-hired under different and false names and false identity documentation and encouraged his supervisors and general foreman to continue this practice.

    Thereafter, the investigation revealed Asplundh decentralized its hiring so Sponsors (the highest levels of management) could remain willfully blind while Supervisors and General Foremen (2nd and 3rd level supervisors) hired ineligible workers, including unauthorized aliens, in the field. Hiring was by word of mouth referrals rather than through any systematic application process. This manner of hiring enabled Supervisors and General Foremen to hire a work force that was readily available. This decentralized model tacitly perpetuated fraudulent hiring practices that, in turn, maximized productivity and profit.

    The amount of the $80 million forfeiture was determined by a review of Asplundh’s payroll, which showed the employment of thousands of undocumented immigrants over four years. Asplundh had a workforce of approximately 30,000. Investigators determined that Asplundh used the fraudulent techniques to hire at least 10 percent of its workforce — or about 3,000 to 4,000 workers — in a four-year span, and earned $800 million in profits during that stretch. The presiding Judge, Josh A. Davison, said the idea of a forfeiture is to seize illegal gains, so the government reasoned that the illegally hired 10 percent of the workforce generated 10 percent of the profits. Thus, 10% of $80 million is $80 million.

    Prior to the company’s guilty plea, regional manager Gauger has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in October 2017, along with two supervisors, Juan Rodriguez and Jude Solis, who pleaded guilty in the same conspiracy.

    This case is another example of the U.S. government cracking down on employers who violate the immigration laws.
  2. Trump’s Extreme Vetting – L-1B Site Visits

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    As many immigration attorneys had anticipated, L-1B site visits by the USCIS and its Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) officers have recently begun. This appears to be another example of the Trump administration’s extreme vetting. These site visits have occurred while companies have pending L-1B visa extensions with the USCIS.

    An L-1B visa is a transfer of an employee with specialized knowledge from a foreign office of the company or its affiliate or subsidiary to a United States facility. It is dissimilar to the H-1B visa in that it is not subject to a cap nor any salary restrictions. But, it can only be utilized by multinational corporations. It is like an H-1B visa in that it is a vehicle for a company to employ a skilled foreign worker on a non-immigrant or temporary visa. An L-1B visa holder is eligible to be employed for up to five years.

    Historically, site visits have taken place on H-1B visas, especially where the H-1B visa holder was employed off-site. As a result of Trump’s April 2017 Executive Order “Buy American and Hire American”, the administration has stated it will use a “more targeted approach” to H-1B visits – meaning more site visits where there is possible fraud or abuse in the visa application.

    Some of the pending legislation in Congress to reform or change the H-1B visa also includes changes to the L-1B visa. Senator Chuck Grassley (R – Iowa) has made the L-1B visa a target for immigration reform. Thus, this seems in keeping with the administration and their friends in Congress grouping H-1B visas with L-1B visas.

    At this point, it is difficult to determine how widespread the L-1B site visits are; however, the fact that there are L-1B site visits while a petition is pending is a change from prior administrations. I would anticipate these L-1B site visits to increase as this appears to be part of the Trump administration’s extreme vetting. I will keep you updated as more information becomes available.
    Tags: fraud, h-1b, l-1b, trump, uscis Add / Edit Tags
  3. IT Companies and Company Officials Indicted for H-1B Visa Fraud


    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    IT companies, SCM Data, Inc., MMC Systems, Inc., their owner, Sowrabh Sharma, and an employee, Shikha Mohta, have been indicted for fraud in federal court, accused of conspiring to lie on applications for H-1B visas for temporary immigrant employees. The falsehoods were promises of full-time, in-house salaried jobs to foreign workers when the truth is they contracted the employees out, did not always pay them their wages and falsified pay stubs to cover-up their unlawful actions.

    The defendants “benched” employees, meaning they did not pay them when there was not work for them, which is a violation of the law, and created false pay stubs to cover up their actions. According to the indictment, the workers were pressured into paying Sharma to create the fake documents that indicated they were getting full-time wages, and were told if they did not do this, they would not be allowed to stay in the United States.

    The visa fraud and obstruction of justice conspiracy charge carries a potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The alien harboring conspiracy charge carries a potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    Stay tuned for further developments in this matter – guilty pleas, trial, etc.
  4. Attorney and Spouse Forfeit $1 Million for Visa Fraud

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    A New York immigration lawyer Loreto Kudera, and his wife, Hazel Kudera, the owner of several medical staffing agencies, pled guilty and forfeited $1 million after admitting to giving false information to U.S. immigration authorities when applying for H1-B visas for foreign nurses, according to plea agreement.

    Hazel Kudera owned multiple staffing agencies in New York that specialized in providing nurses to hospitals, outpatient and skilled nursing facilities. According to the government, Hazel and Loreto Kudera submitted at least 100 fraudulent applications to authorities, and profited from filing fees collected from the nurses and from the health care facilities that paid Hazel Kudera’s staffing agencies.

    Hazel and Loreto Kudera falsely stated that the foreign nurses would be working in specialty occupations at prevailing wage rates when in actuality they were going to work as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or registered nurses (RNs) at much lower rates of pay.

    As part of the alleged scam, Hazel Kudera falsified a staffing agreement between NYC Healthcare Staffing and Dewitt Rehabilitation listing job positions that did not exist, such as clinical coordinator and health care quality assurance manager, in order to cover up the false job titles she provided to USICS.
  5. Couple Indicted for $20 Million H-1B Visa Fraud

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC
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    A husband and wife and four co-conspirators, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Virginia on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States of at least $20 million concerning more than 800 applications for illegal immigration benefits under the H-1B visa program.

    The indictment alleges that Raju Kosuri set up a network of shell companies that he presented to immigration authorities as independent businesses in need of Indian workers, but which he in fact owned and controlled. The indictment further alleges that Kosuri and his co-conspirators used these entities to file petitions for non-existent job vacancies at Kosuri’s data center in Danville, Virginia. Kosuri is alleged to have required workers to pay their own visa processing fees, in violation of H-1B program rules; and he allegedly treated the beneficiaries as hourly contractors, again in violation of H-1B visa program rules. The visa fraud scheme involved the forgery of numerous individuals’ signatures on visa petitions and exhibits, without their knowledge.

    The three main co-conspirators, Kosuri, his wife, Smriti Jharia and Raimondo Piluso face a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, if convicted. The other co-conspirators face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, if convicted.


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