Two Charged In Visa Fraud Conspiracy
HOUSTON – Two Houston women have been arrested following the return of an indictment alleging conspiracy to commit visa fraud, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Monica Castro, 38, and Blessilda Lagron, 54, were arrested this morning without incident, while Lagron surrendered to federal authorities this afternoon.
The sealed indictment was returned Aug. 21, 2013, and unsealed today as they were taken into custody. They both made their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy, at which time, the court ordered both women released upon posting bond.
Castro and Lagrone are charged in a one-count indictment with conspiring to commit visa fraud. The indictment alleges that from September 2009 and continuing through March 2013, Lagrone, with Castro’s assistance, operated a Houston-based company known as IPC Group Inc., which marketed itself as staffing company. Lagrone and Castro allegedly located alien workers from the Philippines and procured H-1B visas on their behalf.
H1-B visas are a category of non-immigrant visa allowing U.S. employers to hire alien workers for specialty occupations. H-1B visa petitioners must certify the correct address where the alien worker will be employed and commit to paying the alien during their employment in the U.S., as well as swear as to the accuracy of statements made in the application.
According to the indictment, IPC Group solicited various alien workers concerning future employment. Lagrone and Castro allegedly filled out the H-1B visa application and the required Labor Condition Application Form. In those forms, they claimed the alien worker would be employed either at the IPC Group address or a Texas hospital (without that hospitals permission), knowing the alien worker would not actually be employed at either address. According to the indictment, the workers were then falsely told that employment was available upon their arrival into the U.S. with an H-1B visa. Once the alien worker arrived to the U.S. on the Visa, Lagrone and Castro allegedly “benched” these alien workers for several months without pay. When actual employment was arranged, Lagrone and Castro backdated checks to preserve the appearance of employment from time of entry into the U.S., according to the allegations.
The maximum penalty, upon conviction, for conspiring to commit visa fraud is five years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000.
The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by agents with the U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service and Homeland Security Investigations. Assistant United States Attorney Celia Moyer and Special Assistant United States Attorney Daniel Menes are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.