Foreign National Pleads Guilty to Visa Fraud
Wilmington, Del. - United States Attorney Charles M. Oberly, III, announced Srinivas Doppalapudi, a 45 year old citizen of India, in the United States with permanent legal residency (green card) status, pleaded guilty today District Court Sue L. Robinson to visa fraud and money laundering. Doppalapudi’s sentencing has been tentatively scheduled for a date in September.
According to statements made and documents filed in court, from March 2007, through September 2010, Doppalapudi submitted 33 fraudulent H-1B visa applications. In entering his guilty plea to visa fraud, Doppalapudi admitted that from March 2007 through September 2010, he operated several businesses which variously applied for H-1B visas and that on 33 occasions he submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, service contracts which were false, in that, no such agreement or contract existed and the contracts bore the forged signature of one of the purported parties. Most of the aliens in whose names Doppalapudi requested H-1B visas were in the United States on student visas which were about to expire.
During the period in question, Doppalapudi wire transferred more than $1 million dollars from his business bank accounts in the United States to a bank account in India. Doppalapudi’s guilty plea to money laundering relates to his transfer of funds, criminally derived from his visa fraud scheme, from his business accounts to his personal account.
Upon entering his guilty plea, the prosecutor asked that the Court to revoke the defendant’s release on bail and to detain Doppalapudi pending sentencing, which Judge Robinson tentatively scheduled for September. The government advised that Doppalapudi was facing certain deportation upon sentencing and had no incentive to return to sentencing. The government further argued that detention was warranted due to the following: during the commission of the offense he wired transferred in excess of $1 million dollars from his U.S. bank accounts to a bank account in India; that his business website listed offices in India, Singapore, and Canada; and on nine occasions from 2008 through the date of his arrest in July 2011, he had traveled internationally. Edmund D. Lyons, Esquire, counsel for defendant, opposed detention, noting that for the last 11 months following his arrest Doppalapudi had been on house arrest with electronic monitoring and fully compliant with all conditions of release. Judge Robinson granted the government’s motion and detained without bail Doppalapudi pending sentencing.
Visa fraud, a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1546(a), and money laundering, a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1957, each are punishable by a maximum penalty of ten years’ incarceration and a $250,000 fine.
The “H-1B Specialty Workers” visa program allows an employer to temporarily employ a foreign worker in the United States on a non-immigrant basis in a “specialty occupation.” Current laws limit to 62,000 the number of such visas that may be issued annually. The H-1B visa application process is the responsibility of the employer, not the employee. Accordingly, it is the employer, not the employee, who applies for the H-1B visa. If the employer’s application is granted, the H-1B visa is issued to the employer, not the non-immigrant employee. H-1B visas are issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service and are valid for a period of employment of up to three years. Thereafter, the employer may seek an extension to this status, for up to a maximum continuous period of six years.
Those employers petitioning for H-1B visas may not lawfully engage in the practice of “speculative employment,” a term used to describe a circumstance in which petitioner does not have an available employment position, but still files a visa request on behalf of a foreign worker. In doing so, the petitioner speculates that, at some point in the future, the petitioner may be able to secure the foreign worker a job. In filing such paperwork, the petitioner fraudulently represents that a specific job opportunity is presently available, when, in fact, it is not.
Those employers petitioning for H-1B visas also may not lawfully engage in the practice of “benching workers,” a term used to describe a circumstance in which petitioners engages in speculative employment and then after the non-immigrant worker makes himself/herself available for work, the employer places the worker on “the bench,” that is, in an apartment for otherwise, without pay, while the worker awaits a job placement or searches for his/her own job placement.
The prosecution was a result of a joint investigation by the United States Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations; the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation Division; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service - Office of Fraud Detection and National Security.