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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. Honduran nationals sentenced for wire fraud, illegally employing workers

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law



    Two unlawfully present Honduran nationals, Anyi Artica-Romero and Milton Noel Romero were sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and 14 months (time served), respectively, for conspiracy to commit wire fraud for their roles in a scheme that created shell companies to mask the unauthorized employment of workers in the construction industry. Additionally, the defendants were also ordered to forfeit more than $800,000 in illegal proceeds from the scheme and pay more than $31,000 in restitution.

    According to court documents, the defendants facilitated the illegal employment of unlawfully present foreign nationals in the construction industry. Construction contractors and subcontractors entered into agreements with shell companies controlled by the defendants to provide workers, most of whom were undocumented aliens, for the contractors and subcontractors. By obtaining and paying the workers through the shell companies, the contractors and subcontractors could disclaim responsibility for ensuring the workers were legally authorized to work in the U.S., state and federal payroll taxes were paid and workers compensation insurance was provided.

    After creating the shell companies, the defendants applied for workers compensation insurance policies covering a period from September 2015 through July 2017. The defendants represented in the applications that the policies would cover up to 19 employees with estimated annual payrolls of no more than $410,800. The insurance companies issued policies based on this fraudulent information in the applications, which the defendants then “rented” to numerous construction contractors and subcontractors employing hundreds of workers with more than $20 million in annual payroll as purported proof of workers compensation insurance required under Florida law.

    The contractors and subcontractors wrote payroll checks to the shell companies for work performed by the workers. The defendants cashed the checks and distributed the cash to construction crew leaders, who then paid the workers in cash. No state or federal payroll taxes were deducted from the workers’ pay, in violation of Florida and federal law.

    The defendants kept approximately four percent of each payroll check as a “rental” fee. During the period of the scheme, they cashed more than $20 million in payroll checks, with the four percent fee totaling more than $800,000 in illegal proceeds.
  2. Indian Man Sentenced to Prison for Visa Fraud

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law



    Ramesh Venkata Pothuru, a former owner and operator of Virgo Inc. and Isync Solutions, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison following convictions for wire and visa fraud. The sentencing follows an investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

    The investigation disclosed that between 2010 and 2013, Pothuru collected over $450,000 in illegal filing fees and related expenses from more than 100 fraudulent visas and employer-sponsored green cards for nonimmigrant workers from his native India. Pothuru collected these illegal fees and expenses from the employees he sponsored for H-1B visas and green cards through direct payments to his personal bank accounts. He subsequently submitted false applications in which he did not identify the fees that he collected from the non-immigrant workers and swore that he did not collect.

    Under federal regulations concerning H-1B visas, employers are prohibited from taking payments from H-1B non-immigrant workers to cover the costs associated with filing fees, which fees are required by law to be borne by the sponsoring U.S. employer.
  3. Massachusetts restaurateur sentenced for multiple fraud schemes

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC


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    A restaurant owner, Hazrat Khalid Khan, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and one year of supervised release in federal court in Boston for committing tax and insurance fraud involving 11 Boston-area restaurants, and for committing visa and immigration fraud. Also, he will be subject to deportation proceedings upon completion of his sentence. Khan was ordered to pay restitution of $2,343,155 to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and $27,863 to two insurance companies he defrauded. The sentencing follows a multiagency investigation, which included Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

    In April 2017, Khan pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the IRS, failing to collect and pay over taxes, committing mail fraud, making false statements on a naturalization application, and committing visa fraud.

    Khan was the partial owner of 11 fried chicken takeout restaurants in greater Boston. As part of a tax fraud scheme that ran for years, Khan and his co-conspirators – generally the managers of these restaurants – defrauded the government and avoided paying payroll and income taxes owed by the stores. They paid their employees in cash and provided tax preparers with false information about the restaurants’ payroll and income, thereby causing the tax preparers to file false tax returns.

    Khan repeatedly made false statements to obtain immigration benefits. Specifically, on two occasions – first in connection with obtaining legal permanent resident status and again when applying to naturalize as a U.S. citizen – Khan falsely denied that he had previously been arrested or convicted of a crime, when in fact, Khan had been previously convicted in federal court of alien smuggling.

    This is an example of how criminal law and immigration law can work hand in hand. For more information on criminal violations in immigration law and many other issues related to employer immigration compliance, I invite you to read my new book, The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, which is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
  4. Restaurant Owner Going to Prison for Harboring Undocumented Workers

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    An owner of two restaurants in Ukiah, California, Yaowapha Ritdet, was sentenced to serve 24 months in prison for harboring for profit and corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the internal revenue laws. According to documents filed with the court, Ritdet hired Thai nationals who were illegally present in the United States to work at her restaurants, Ruen Tong Thai Cuisine and Walter Café. Ritdet underpaid these employees, paid them in cash, and instructed them not to speak to anyone about their immigration status. Ritdet also did not pay employment taxes on the cash wages. Ritdet filed false individual income tax returns for 2007 through 2011 that underreported the gross receipts, sales, and income she received from her two restaurants.

    In addition to prison, Ritdet was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and to pay approximately $567,755.65 in restitution, including $70,768 to underpaid employees and $496,987 to the Internal Revenue Service.
  5. Waste Management Supervisors Going to Prison for Unlawful Hiring Scheme

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    Two low-level Houston supervisors of Waste Management, Rudy Martinez and Israel Arquimides Martinez, were sentenced to over seven years in federal prison for stealing the identities of U.S. citizens and using them to hire more than 100 undocumented workers. The men both face deportation upon completion of their prison sentences.

    The two men were convicted by a federal jury in April 2016 of 18 counts, including knowingly conspiring to employ unauthorized immigrants, encouraging them to reside in the U.S., and aggravated identity theft. Additionally, Rudy Martinez, was convicted of obstruction of justice by testifying falsely under oath and threatening a witness. Three higher ranking managers at Waste Management took plea deals and were called to testify by the prosecution.

    The undocumented workers involved in the identity theft scheme worked at a site run by a Waste Management subcontractor. The workers were fired and then rehired in 2012 with other people's identities. Some of these workers, who face deportation, also testified about the hiring scheme.

    This is another example of the potential for criminal liability if one knowingly hires many undocumented workers, especially where identity theft is used.
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