Two Sentenced to Federal Prison for U-Visa Fraud
Greenville, South Carolina ---- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon and Homeland Security Investigations Acting Special Agent in Charge Christopher Healy announced today that Miguel Bautista-Manuel, age 41, of Mexico, and Travis Lee Nixon, age 29, of Greenville, were sentenced to federal prison for their roles in a conspiracy to defraud the United States by attempting to fraudulently acquire “U-Visas” for Bautista-Manuel, Jose Pineda-Hernandez, age 38, of Honduras, and Oscar Pineda-Martinez, age 24, of Honduras. Senior United States District Court Judge Henry M. Herlong, Jr., of Greenville sentenced Bautista-Manuel to 8.5 months in federal prison and Nixon to 12 months in federal prison. Pineda-Martinez was previously sentenced to time-served, and Pineda-Hernandez is awaiting sentencing.
U-Visas, so named from the statutory provision authorizing their issuance, are intended to provide lawful immigration status to victims of certain crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and who are willing to assist law enforcement in the prosecution of the criminal activity. The number of U-visas that can be issued each year is statutorily limited.
Facts presented in court established that Bautista-Manuel engaged Nixon to act as the perpetrator of a staged armed robbery of which Bautista-Manuel, Pineda-Hernandez, and Pineda-Martinez were the purported victims. The three reported the staged robbery to the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, which devoted resources to investigating the robbery. Bautista-Manuel, Pineda-Hernandez, and Pineda-Martinez then used the purported armed robbery, and their assistance in its investigation, as the basis for fraudulent petitions filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services seeking U-Visas.
“U-Visas play an important role in helping victims of serious crimes obtain justice,” said U.S. Attorney Lydon. “Those who commit fraud to obtain them divert already limited law enforcement resources and deprive true victims with a sincere willingness to assist law enforcement of legal immigration benefits.”
Acting Special Agent in Charge Healy added, “Fraud like that committed by these defendants not only delays the issuance of U-Visas to legitimate crime victims but also wastes limited law enforcement resources.”
Agents of Homeland Security Investigations in Greenville investigated the case, with assistance from the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorneys David Stephens and Max Cauthen, both of the Greenville office, prosecuted the case.