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Debra Wong Yang
United States Attorney
Central District of California


United States Courthouse
312 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, California 90012
Release No. 06-131

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 29, 2006
For Information, Contact Public Affairs
Thom Mrozek (213) 894-6947

IRANIAN MEDIA PERSONALITY PLEADS GUILTY IN FAR-REACHING VISA FRAUD SCHEME


Los Angeles, CA - A San Fernando Valley man well known for his appearances on Persian media outlets pleaded guilty this afternoon to five federal charges for orchestrating an immigration fraud scheme involving the filing of fraudulent employment visa applications on behalf of scores of foreign nationals seeking to come to the United States.

Henry Hossein Haghighi Heguman, 61, of West Hills, an "immigration consultant" who regularly appeared on Persian TV and radio, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, two counts of immigration fraud, and two counts of money laundering.

Haghighi is one of four defendants who were arrested in November 2004 in relation to the scheme that Haghighi admitted helped as many as 99 aliens obtain visas through fraud. Haghighi also admitted that his operation charged from $6,000 to $24,000, depending of the circumstances of the alien seeking a visa.

Employment-based visas are normally issued when a business in the United States needs a person to fill a specific job and is unable to find a qualified employee in the U.S. labor pool. The business can file a petition to allow a particular alien, who is supposed to be qualified to fill the job, to enter the United States to work for the petitioning business.

Relying on more than 200 Southern California businesses ranging from medical clinics to auto parts stores, some legitimate and some not to serve as petitioners, Haghighi and his associates filed paperwork that fraudulently claimed a business needed to hire a particular worker who needed a visa to enter the United States. In most cases, the aliens who immigrated to the United States as part of this scheme never went to work for the petitioning businesses.

The investigation began when adjudication officers with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reviewed employment visa petitions with questionable employer need and employee qualifications. The matter was referred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which opened a criminal investigation.

As a result of his guilty plea, Haghighi faces a sentence of up to 65 years in federal prison when he is sentenced on January 22, 2007. A plea agreement in this case contemplates a sentence of approximately 30 months, although this calculation is not binding on the court.

"Let's be clear those who use fake documents and fraudulent information to help others obtain visas and gain immigration benefits are stealing a precious gift from the American people," said Robert Schoch, Special Agent in Charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. "Beyond that, immigration benefit fraud poses a serious threat not only to the integrity of our nation's legal immigration system, but also to the security of our country."

Previously in this case, two of Haghighi's codefendants pleaded guilty.

Farideh Mir, 59, of Sherman Oaks, an employee of a law firm that assisted Haghighi, pleaded guilty to four counts of immigration fraud. Mir is expected to be sentenced on December 11, 2006.

Grace Houra Shahraz Edison, 51, a Canoga Park businesswoman, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. Edison is scheduled to be sentenced on October 16, 2006.

The fourth defendant, attorney Bita Logham Hoffman, 41, of Carlsbad, is scheduled to go on trial on November 14, 2006. Hoffman is charged with conspiracy and numerous counts of immigration fraud.

United States District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew is presiding over this case.

Debra D. King, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office, stated: "IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to working with other federal law enforcement agencies and the United States Attorney's Office to ensure that criminals are held accountable. Today's guilty plea demonstrates to the American public that IRS Criminal Investigation will aggressively pursue fraudulent schemes and illegal activities to protect the interests of hardworking taxpayers. This was a successful completion of an innovative approach to fight immigration benefit fraud by combining the expertise of IRS Criminal Investigation in conducting financial investigations along with the expertise of the ICE fraud units to break up conspiracies which are designed to defraud the government."

Tim Bowman, Supervisory Senior Intelligence Research Specialist for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said: "These individuals and their associates submitted many fraudulent employment petitions and related immigration applications and were abusing the legal process for alien smuggling. Their actions undermined the integrity of the legal immigration system and caused delays for those attempting to immigrate to the United States legally."

The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Labor, the Department of State, IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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Release No. 06-131

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