Region’s Top Federal Law Enforcement Officials Issue Plea to Migrants: Don’t Trust your Life to Smugglers
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Young (619) 546-7981 and Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan Heesch (619) 546-9442
SAN DIEGO – Hardev Panesar of San Diego was sentenced today in federal court by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel to 91 months in custody for his leadership role in an immigration fraud scheme.
According to his plea agreement, Panesar conspired with others, including Rafael Hastie and Gurdev Singh, to induce unauthorized immigrants to pay money based on false and fraudulent claims that the defendants could secure immigration status for the victims and their families. Panesar misled the victims into believing that he could obtain immigration documents or legal immigration status by pretending to be an agent with the Department of Homeland Security. Panesar wore a DHS jacket and showed purported official credentials to his victims.
The plea agreement outlined several dates in 2016 where Panesar successfully obtained thousands of dollars by pretending to be a DHS official. The money paid by the victims totaled over $2.5 million, which was converted to the personal use and benefit of Panesar and his co-defendants. According to statements made at sentencing, Panesar also lost a significant portion of the money he stole from victims as a victim himself in a Nigerian “advanced fee scheme.” At a prior sentencing hearing, one of the victims testified in court that his family gave Panesar and Gurdev Singh approximately $250,000 with the hopes of receiving green cards—a devastating financial loss that contributed to the depression and eventual suicide of a family member.
Panesar’s sentence includes a six-month custodial sentence for an additional charge of Failure to Appear. On June 21, 2018, while released on bond, Panesar fled to Mexico and failed to appear at a Motion Hearing before Judge Curiel set for June 22, 2018. He was captured in Mexico and deported to the United States approximately six weeks later.
Earlier this year, Panesar’s co-defendants were sentenced by Judge Curiel. Rafael Hastie was sentenced to 46 months in custody and ordered to pay $942,000 in restitution to the victims. Gurdev Singh was sentenced to 27 months in custody and ordered to pay $392,850 in restitution to the victims. The Court ordered Panesar to pay approximately $2.5 million in restitution to his victims.
Additionally, last week, former HSI supervisor Johnny Martin was found guilty by a federal jury in a related case for the false statements he made to the FBI in connection with their investigation into this immigration fraud scheme. Martin will be sentenced on January 17, 2020.
In imposing the sentence, Judge Curiel described Panesar’s scheme as “one of the more serious cases this Court has handled” in recent years. “Mr. Panesar preyed on the most vulnerable…these are people who wanted to live and experience the American dream. . . . Mr. Panesar pretended he could be the one who provided the American dream.” Judge Curiel added, “This offense is serious because of the heartlessness and callousness required to perpetuate this fraud on so many for so long.”
“Pretending to be a legitimate government agent to scam hundreds of individuals of their life savings undermines the crucial trust we bestow upon our law enforcement partners,” said U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer, Jr. “When that trust is betrayed for personal enrichment, our office will aggressively prosecute the fraudsters and seek restitution for the victims.”
“Panesar’s fraud scheme was particularly egregious as he attempted to use the veil of a U.S. government official to obtain millions of dollars from those trying to obtain legal status in the United States,” said Scott Brunner, FBI Special Agent in Charge. “Falsely claiming to be a federal official degrades the integrity of the system and therefore has serious consequences. Today, Panesar’s destructive scheme has been shut down, he has a federal conviction, and must serve a prison sentence as a result of his actions.”
DEFENDANTS Case Numbers: 17CR1371-GPC, 18CR3229-GPC
Hardev PANESAR Age: 71 El Cajon, California
Rafael HASTIE Age: 49 Tijuana, Mexico
Gurdev SINGH Age: 58 Bakersfield, California
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Count 1: 18 U.S.C. § 1349, Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud
Maximum Penalty: Twenty years in prison, $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution.
Counts 2-4: 18 U.S.C. § 1343, Wire Fraud;
Maximum Penalty: Twenty years in prison, $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution
Counts 5-10: 18 U.S.C. § 912, False Personation of an Officer or Employee of the United States;
Maximum Penalty: Three years in prison, $250,000 fine
Count 11: 31 U.S.C. § 5324(a)(3), Structuring Domestic Financial Institutions;
Maximum Penalty: Ten years in prison, $250,000 fine, forfeiture
Count 1: 18 U.S.C. § 3146(a)(1), Failure to Appear After Pre-Trial Release;
Maximum Penalty: Ten years in prison, $250,000 fine.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Office of Field Operations
U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Office of Professional Responsibility