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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
05/27/2009

8 arrested on RICO charges for visa fraud, human trafficking conspiracy

ICE-led investigation reveals $6 million scheme to employ illegal aliens in 14 states

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Eight individuals were arrested May 26 on RICO and human trafficking charges as part of a fraudulent labor leasing conspiracy that allegedly employed illegal aliens at hotels and businesses in 14 states. The arrests were made following a 45-count federal grand jury indictment against 12 defendants that was unsealed in federal court here Tuesday.

The arrests resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); FBI; U.S. Department of Labor, OIG - Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations; IRS-Criminal Investigation; the Kansas Department of Revenue - Criminal Investigations; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; the Independence, Mo., Police Department; and the U.S. Department of Justice's Human Trafficking Rescue Project.

"This RICO indictment alleges an extensive and profitable criminal enterprise in which hundreds of illegal aliens were employed at hotels and other businesses across the country," said Acting United States Attorney Matt Whitworth, Western District of Missouri. "The defendants allegedly used false information to acquire fraudulent work visas for these foreign nationals. Many of their employees were allegedly victims of human trafficking who were coerced to work in violation of the terms of their visa without proper pay and under the threat of deportation. The defendants also required them to reside together in crowded, substandard and overpriced apartments."

Many of those workers, added Whitworth, were employed at hotels in the Kansas City area and in Branson, Mo.

"The indictment alleges that this criminal enterprise lured victims to the United States under the guise of legitimate jobs and a better life, only to treat them as modern-day slaves under the threat of deportation," said James Gibbons, ICE acting special agent in charge. "The alleged conspiracy not only victimized foreign workers, but also defrauded U.S. businesses and displaced legal workers in the name of profit. ICE is committed to working closely with its law enforcement partners to target and dismantle human trafficking organizations that flout our nation's immigration laws." Based in Chicago, Gibbons oversees a six-state area that includes Missouri.

The following individuals were charged in a 45-count indictment returned May 6, 2009, under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City: Abrorkhodja Askarkhodjaev, 30, Nodir Yunusov, 22, and Rustamjon Shukurov, 21, all citizens of Uzbekistan residing in Mission, Kan.; Ilkham Fazilov, 44, and Nodirbek Abdoollayev, 27, both citizens of Uzbekistan residing in Kansas City, Mo.; Viorel Simon, 27, and Alexandru Frumasache, 23, both citizens of Moldova residing in Kansas City, Kan.; Kristin Dougherty, 49, of Ellisville, Mo.; Andrew Cole, 53, of St. Charles, Mo.; Abdukakhar Azizkhodjaev, 49, a citizen of Uzbekistan residing in Panama City, Fla.; and Sandjar Agzamov, 27, and Jakhongir Kakhkharov, 29, both citizens of Uzbekistan who recently left the U.S. and are living abroad. Three companies owned or controlled by Askarkhodjaev were also indicted: Giant Labor Solutions, LLC, headquartered in Kansas City, Mo.; Crystal Management, Inc., headquartered in Mission, Kan.; and Five Star Cleaning, LLC, headquartered in Overland Park, Kan. The indictment was unsealed and made public upon the arrests and initial court appearances Tuesday of the following eight defendants: Askarkhodjaev, Fazilov, Abdoollayev, Simon, Frumasache, Dougherty, Cole and Azizkhodjaev.

Racketeering

The RICO indictment alleges that, since January 2001, Askarkhodjaev has been the leader of a criminal enterprise and directed the rest of the co-defendants in carrying out unlawful activities in furtherance of the enterprise. Among the criminal acts alleged in a pattern of racketeering activity are: forced labor trafficking, identity theft, harboring illegal aliens, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, transporting illegal aliens, visa fraud, extortion, interstate travel in aid of racketeering, wire fraud and inducing the illegal entry of foreign nationals.
Askarkhodjaev, Yunusov, Shukurov, Dougherty, Fazilov, Simon, Abdoollayev, Cole, Agzamov and Kakhkharov, along with corporate defendants Giant Labor, Crystal Management and Five Star Cleaning, are each charged in one count of racketeering and one count of participating in a RICO conspiracy.

According to the indictment, Askarkhodjaev owned and operated a labor leasing company, Giant Labor Solutions, at 607 Westport Rd. in Kansas City. Through Giant Labor and a dozen other businesses that he associated with or controlled as part of the criminal enterprise, Askarkhodjaev secured fraudulent labor leasing contracts from clients in the hotel/resort, casino, and construction industries in Missouri, Kansas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, South Carolina and Wyoming. The criminal enterprise allegedly used illegal aliens as part of its workforce to fulfill labor contracts for housekeeping, cleaning services and other duties.

Giant Labor's workforce was predominately comprised of foreign nationals, the indictment says, who either entered the U.S. illegally, overstayed their visas, or did not have legal authorization to reside or work in their specific locations within the U.S. during their term of employment.

Askarkhodjaev and others involved in the enterprise promised their clients to comply with all pertinent labor and immigration laws, to pay all relative employment taxes, and to carry proper insurance coverage. However, they allegedly failed to pay the required employment taxes, failed to pay overtime, failed to pay their workers in the manner required by federal regulations, defrauded insurance companies in order to obtain the required insurance coverage for their employees, and employed aliens that were not authorized to work in the U.S.

Askarkhodjaev and others involved in the enterprise allegedly petitioned for hundreds of foreign workers by using false information in their applications in order to obtain certification and approval for H-2B work visa authorizations. The enterprise profited from these fraudulent applications, the indictment says, by collecting fees from the foreign nationals in exchange for obtaining or extending their visas. They allegedly charged fees ranging from $400 to $3,000, depending on the type of visa requested.

According to the indictment, Askarkhodjaev associated with or controlled the operations of multiple businesses in several states that fulfilled labor leasing contracts, filed fraudulent visa applications and petitions and concealed unlawful proceeds and the hiring of illegal aliens. Abdoollayev, Dougherty, Cole, Yunusov, Kakhkharov, Agzamov, Fazilov and Shukurov were employed by Giant Labor and also owned or controlled companies in Missouri and Kansas that were used to carry out the activities of the criminal enterprise. Simon acted as a supervisor with Giant Labor and Cole was a subcontractor for Giant Labor.

Forced Labor Trafficking

The federal indictment also alleges that Askarkhodjaev, Yunusov, Shukurov, Fazilov, Simon, Cole and Frumusache aided and abetted each other to obtain the labor and services of a person by means of serious harm and threats of serious harm, and by means of the abuse and threatened abuse of law and legal process. The indictment alleges they intended the person to believe that, if he did not perform such labor and services, that person or another person would suffer serious harm.

According to the indictment, the enterprise required the foreign nationals to work where the enterprise assigned them. The enterprise was already in violation of federal law and the H-2B visa provisions by fraudulently changing the terms of the visas and/or placing the foreign nationals in employment in violation of the H-2B visa certifications. However, the enterprise threatened to cancel the immigration status of foreign nationals who refused to work as directed by the enterprise.

The visas obtained by the enterprise for the foreign nationals were the workers' only means to remain legally within the United States. Thus, cancellation of their visas would render them illegally within the United States and without the ability to find other legal employment. The enterprise allegedly threatened to charge the families of the foreign nationals in their home countries a fee of $5,000 if they returned to their home country.

The enterprise allegedly violated federal law by paying the foreign nationals on a commission/incentive type basis rather than the prevailing hourly wage. The enterprise paid some workers approximately $3.50 for each hotel room that they cleaned. The enterprise profited by keeping a portion of each foreign national worker's wage, not paying them for all hours worked, failing to pay overtime, and fraudulently retaining all payroll taxes.

The enterprise allegedly charged the foreign nationals additional fees, including transportation fees for driving the workers between the assigned work location and their apartments, and for driving the foreign nationals, even against their will, to other locations in the U.S. to work. The enterprise also charged uniform fees, miscellaneous and unexplained fees, and fees to petition for extensions on the foreign national workers' visas.

The enterprise further profited, the indictment says, by requiring the foreign national workers to reside in apartments it exclusively secured and controlled, for which it charged exorbitant rents. The enterprise leased various apartments for $385 to $650 per month while requiring anywhere from three to eight foreign nationals to reside in the apartment, charging each of the foreign nationals between $250 and $350 per month for that apartment's rent. The apartments were not sex-specific and usually mixed both men and women inside one apartment. The enterprise provided minimal furniture, with the workers sleeping on the floor, mattresses, or air mattresses. In assuring compliance with the exclusive control of these living conditions, the indictment says, the enterprise often threatened to cancel the immigration status of foreign nationals who requested permission to seek alternative housing.

According to the indictment, these fees and expenses, combined with the lack of payment for hours worked, underpayment for hours worked, and lack of work assignments, often resulted in the foreign national workers receiving a paycheck with negative earnings. The enterprise allegedly ensured that the workers did not make enough to repay their debt, purchase a plane ticket home, or pay for their own living expenses while in the U.S.

The enterprise further controlled the foreign national workers in the Kansas City area by not allowing them to receive mail, the indictment says. The enterprise maintained keys to the apartments and to the apartment mailboxes and forwarded the worker's mail to the business office of the enterprise.

Additional Charges

The federal indictment also charges various defendants in one count of fraud in foreign labor contracting, seven counts of visa fraud, two counts of aggravated identity theft, three counts of harboring illegal aliens, four counts of wire fraud, four counts of mail fraud, seven counts of money laundering, one count of transporting illegal aliens, one count of extortion and one count of interstate travel in aid of racketeering.

In addition to being charged in some of the above counts, Askarkhodjaev is also charged with one count of marriage fraud for entering into a marriage with a U.S. citizen for the purpose of evading immigration laws and two counts of visa fraud related to falsely claiming that he resided with his wife in Blue Springs, Mo., when in reality he was residing apart from his wife. Askarkhodjaev is also charged with three counts of money laundering, three counts of mail fraud, and one count each of identity theft and harboring illegal aliens.

Allegation of Forfeiture

The federal indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation, which would require the defendants to forfeit to the government all interest in any property involved in the alleged offenses, as well as all property derived from the proceeds obtained from the alleged offenses, including a money judgment of at least $6 million.

RICO

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (commonly referred to as RICO) is a federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization, or enterprise. A racket is an illegal business, and engaging in a racket is called racketeering.

Under RICO, a person who is a member of an enterprise that has committed any two of 35 crimes (27 federal crimes and 8 state crimes) within a ten year period can be charged with racketeering. Those found guilty of racketeering can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and/or fined up to $250,000. In addition, the racketeer must forfeit all ill-gotten gains and interest in any business gained through a pattern of racketeering activity.
Under federal statutes, those found guilty of forced labor trafficking, mail fraud, money laundering, extortion and wire fraud may also be subject to a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole.

The public should be reminded that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys William L. Meiners and Cynthia L. Cordes, Western District of Missouri, and Trial Attorney Jim Felte with the U.S. Department of Justice's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.