Dec. 14, 2009
TWIN BROTHERS SENT TO PRISON FOR OBTAINING FRAUDULENT VISAS FOR 80+ CITIZENS OF INDIA
(HOUSTON) - Twin brothers Alberto and Bernardo Pena, 40, of Brownsville, Texas, have been sent to prison for their role in a conspiracy to obtain fraudulent work visas for numerous Indian nationals in exchange for at least $20,000 per visa, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas sentenced Alberto Pena to 41 months imprisonment, while Bernardo Pena received a 30-month term of imprisonment. The brothers were found guilty of all 16 counts charged against each of them in a two-week jury trial before Judge Atlas in April 2009, which included guilty verdicts for one count of conspiracy, 14 counts of encouraging and inducing illegal immigration and one count of money laundering for each defendant.
At trial, the jury found the Pena brothers had encouraged and induced 88 individuals from Gujarat, India, to unlawfully enter the United States on temporary H-2B visas, knowing the Indian nationals did not intend to work for the company used to get their visas nor 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 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 at trial revealed that Charles Keith Viscardi was the owner and manager of a construction company located in New Iberia, La., and enlisted AMEB Business Group Inc., a visa facilitation firm owned and operated by Alberto and Bernardo Pena and Marte Villar, 50, 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, Texas, and Rakesh Patel, 40, a Houston pharmacist, recruited citizens of India who were willing to pay $20,000 to $60,000 in exchange for visas to enter the United States. Alberto 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 Mack 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 revealed 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.
Viscardi pleaded guilty for his involvement in the scheme, cooperated with authorities and will be sentenced by Judge Atlas on Dec. 16, 2009, at 3 p.m. Mack and Rakesh Patel also pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on that same date at 1 p.m. Charges remain pending against Villar, who remains a fugitive from justice.
All of the criminal charges are the result of a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional investigation jointly led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of State - Diplomatic Security Service with the assistance of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation Division 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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