South Carolina Staffing Company Owner Sentenced for Temporary Worker Fraud
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts
BOSTON – The owner of a South Carolina temporary staffing company was sentenced yesterday in U.S. District Court in Boston in connection with a multi-year visa fraud conspiracy that placed unauthorized foreign workers at multiple Cape Cod businesses.
Mavadene Thomas, 42, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., was sentenced by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Patti B. Sarris to three years of probation, the first year to be served in home confinement, forfeiture of $37,000 and a fine of $4,000. In June 2016, Thomas pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and one count of encouraging and inducing illegal immigration for private financial gain.
“By securing H-2B visas for foreign workers through fraud, Thomas created a permanent labor pool of unauthorized immigrants, who took jobs that should have gone to American citizens or authorized immigrants,” said Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb.
“This joint investigation with our law enforcement partners uncovered a fraudulent scheme that manipulated the H2B visa process and took advantage of visa beneficiaries and U.S. businesses,” said David W. Hall, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security Service, Boston Field Office. “The Diplomatic Security Service is committed to protecting the integrity of the visa process, the security of the homeland, and protecting the American work force.”
Thomas owned and operated Zippi Help LLC – a labor staffing company located in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Zippi Help had staffing contracts with businesses – primarily in the service and hospitality industry – for which it provided temporary and seasonal workers. From 2011 through 2014, secured H-2B visas for numerous foreign workers by submitting fraudulent visa petitions on behalf of several Cape Cod area businesses. The petitioning businesses often times were unaware that had applied for H-2B visas on their behalf. As part of the fraud, even created fake companies solely to be able to petition for the foreign worker visas.
Among the false statements Thomas included in her H-2B filings were misrepresentations about the details of the petitioning business, the efforts made by the business to recruit American workers, the number of employment vacancies available, and the type of work to be completed. Thomas also created and submitted false tax returns and other business documentation in support of the H-2B petitions.
The H-2B visa program allows U.S. companies to hire foreign nationals to fill employee vacancies that the company is unable to fill with U.S. citizens or others legally authorized to work in the country. The visa program is not intended for permanent work, and is designed to help U.S. businesses that have temporary, seasonal, peak load, or intermittent needs. As part of the application process, petitioning businesses must demonstrate that (i) the need for the foreign worker’s services is only temporary, (ii) that there is not a sufficient number of U.S. citizen workers who are willing, able, and qualified to perform the temporary work, and (iii) that the employment of the foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages or working conditions of similarly situated U.S. citizen workers.
Through Thomas’s false filings, she represented to multiple federal agencies involved in the approval process that the foreign nationals were going to work temporarily at the Cape Cod area businesses. However, once the workers entered the U.S., they were sent to work for other businesses with which Thomas and Zippi Help had staffing contracts. After the H-2B workers’ authorized stay expired, Thomas frequently filed false documentation on their behalf to convert their immigration status to that of a visitor, which specifically forbade them from working. Thomas knew these workers were not allowed to work at her company, but nevertheless continued to employ them.
Acting U.S. Attorney Weinreb and DSS SAC Hall made the announcement. Matthew Etre, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston; Jonathan Mellone, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigation, New York Regional Office; and Shelly Binkowski, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service assisted with the investigation. Assistance was also provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security Unit, Vermont Service Center. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordi de Llano of Weinreb’s Economic Crimes Unit prosecuted the case.
Updated March 1, 2017
Labor & Employment