July 1, 2009
SAUDI ARABIAN NATIONAL CHARGED WITH FRAUD IN OBTAINING VISA FOR DOMESTIC EMPLOYEE
(HOUSTON) – Mohammed Abdulazz Al-Zehairi, a 42-year-old Saudi Arabian national residing in Houston, was arrested today by members of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA) for providing a false statement to secure a United States Visa for a domestic employee, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today. Al-Zehairi appeared in federal court this afternoon and has been ordered to remain in federal custody without bond pending a counsel determination hearing set for July 7, 2009.
The investigation leading to the charges against Al-Zehairi was initiated by members of the HTRA in late 2007 upon the receipt of information from the Indonesian Consulate in Houston reporting that an Indonesian national residing in Houston with Al-Zehairi and his family were seeking help from the consul.
The affidavit in support of a criminal complaint filed in federal court yesterday alleges that in October 2001, a female Indonesian national began working for Al-Zehairi and his family as a domestic employee in Saudi Arabia. In January 2002, Al-Zehairi allegedly offered to employ the Indonesian national as a domestic employee when the family travelled to the United States. To secure a U.S. visa for the Indonesian national to enter the United States, the complaint alleges, Al-Zehairi and the Indonesian national visited the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and submitted a B-1 “Domestic Employee” application and the required “Employee Contract” allegedly signed by both Al-Zehairi and the Indonesian female. In late January 2002, based upon the application and employment contract, a U.S. B-1 non-immigrant visa was issued to the Indonesian national permitting her to travel to the United States with Al-Zehairi and his family. The Indonesian national agreed to work for Al-Zehairi in the United States in February 2002.
The employment contract is an agreement between the prospective employer and the employee containing certain specific guarantees which the employer must adhere to for a U.S. visa to issue including, but not limited to, compensation at the prevailing wage for the employee and the employee’s accessibility to his/her passport. According to the complaint, the employment contract submitted by Al-Zehairi with the visa application provided for a monthly salary of $1,300 per month, established work hours of eight hours a day/six days a week and assured the employee’s possession of her passport during her stay in the United States.
During the six years the Indonesian national worked for Al-Zehairi, the complaint alleges she worked far more than the agreed upon eight hours a day every day, received a total of two payments of $200 each during her entire term of employment while her family in Indonesia received cumulative payments once a year equivalent to $160 per month and was denied access to her passport. The passport was reportedly kept in a closet locked with a combination lock in the master bedroom of the Al-Zehairi home. These allegations contravening the terms of the employment agreement presented to the U.S. Embassy in support of the visa application would render the submitted document false.
“The arrest in this case demonstrates Diplomatic Security’s commitment to maintaining the integrity of the visa process,” said Peter Hargraves, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. State Department Diplomatic Security Service’s Houston Field Office. “Visa fraud is a serious crime with substantive national security, economic and personal consequences.”
The Indonesian female was removed from the Al-Zehairi residence at her request by investigating agents in December 2007 and delivered to the Indonesian consulate while the investigation continued. Her passport was retrieved by investigating agents and returned to her.
Visa fraud carries a penalty, upon conviction, of 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine or both.
The investigation ultimately leading to the charges was conducted by agents of the FBI and the Department of State Diplomatic Security Services and deputies of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office-all members of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA), a federally funded multi-agency force combining the expertise of federal, state and local law enforcement with the services and support of non-governmental service providers to investigate and prosecute human traffickers and rescue victims of human trafficking.A criminal complaint is merely an allegation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted by due process of law.
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