April 3, 2009
TWIN BROTHERS CONVICTED IN CONSPIRACY TO OBTAIN FRAUDULENT VISAS FOR OVER EIGHTY CITIZENS OF INDIA
(HOUSTON) – A federal jury has found twin brothers, Alberto and Bernardo Pena, 39, of Brownsville, Texas, guilty of conspiring with each other and others to obtain fraudulent work visas for nearly 90 Indian nationals in exchange for at least $20,000 per visa, acting United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today. The verdicts were returned today in open court.
In returning guilty verdicts on all 16 counts charged against each defendant, the jury found the defendants had encouraged and induced 87 individuals from Gujarat, India, to unlawfully enter the United States on temporary H-2B visas, knowing that the Indian nationals did not intend to work for the company used to get their visas and knowing that they did not intend to return to India at the expiration of their 10-month visas. The scheme generated an estimated $1.8 million dollars in profits for the conspirators.
An H-2B visa is a category of non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. employers to hire alien workers for temporary non-agricultural work if the employer can demonstrate that there are no qualified U.S. workers to perform the jobs and that hiring alien workers will not adversely affect local wages. Only 66,000 visas may be issued per year under the H-2B visa program.
The evidence introduced during the course of the two-week trial before United States District Judge Nancy F. Atlas proved that Charles Keith Viscardi, who previously pleaded guilty for his involvement in the scheme, was the owner and manager of a construction company located in New Iberia, La. Viscardi enlisted AMEB Business Group Inc., a visa facilitation firm owned and operated by Alberto and Bernardo Pena and Marte Villar, 49, of Matamoros, Mexico, to procure foreign manual labor under the H-2B visa program. While AMEB did in fact procure laborers from Mexico for the construction company, the principals of AMEB, including Alberto Pena, also submitted documentation to the Department of Homeland Security - Citizenship and Immigration Services and other governmental agencies allegedly seeking workers from India on behalf of the construction company.
Co-defendants Mahendra “Mack” Patel, 56, of Ft. Worth, and Rakesh Patel, 40, a Houston pharmacist, who both pleaded guilty in advance of trial, recruited citizens of India who were willing to pay $20,000 to $60,000 in exchange for visas to enter the United States. Alberto Pena and Bernardo Pena traveled to India to assist the Indian nationals with the application process and also visited and corresponded with the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai. Each of the Indian nationals granted H-2B visas came to Houston, where defendants Mack Patel and Rakesh Patel collected payments for the visas in the form of cash as well as cashier’s checks and money orders purchased throughout the country. None of the Indian nationals were ever employed at the construction company but instead simply dispersed throughout the United States after paying for their fraudulently obtained visas. Trial testimony showed that at least some of the Indian nationals whose relatives had paid $35,000 in cash for their visas had been working at gas stations and convenience stores owned and operated by those relatives without having received a paycheck during the three years since they entered the country. All of the conspirators, including Alberto and Bernardo Pena, shared in the proceeds derived from the scheme.
At sentencing, which is currently scheduled for June 26, 2009, at 1:00 p.m. before Judge Atlas, both defendants face a maximum penalty of up to five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine in connection with the conspiracy conviction and up to 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine in connection with each of the 14 substantive counts of encouraging and inducing illegal immigration conviction. Additionally, Bernardo Pena, faces up to 20 years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine for money laundering concealment, and Alberto Pena faces up to 10 years imprisonment and up to a $250,000 fine for violating the money laundering spending statute. Both defendants also potentially face a forfeiture judgment of up to $1.8 million.
Sentencing for Viscardi and Mahendra Patel and Rakesh Patel is set before Judge Atlas on Aug. 17, 2009, at 9 a.m., at which time each defendant faces up to five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for their conspiracy convictions.
Charges remain pending against defendant Marte Othon Villar Sr., who is currently a fugitive from justice and presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.
All of the criminal charges are the result of a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional investigation jointly led by the Department of Homeland Security - Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of State - Diplomatic Security Service, with the assistance of the Department of Treasury Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigations and the Department of Labor - Office of Inspector General. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jason Varnado and Gregg Costa.
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