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Document and Benefit Fraud
01/27/2014

Los Angeles employment agency owner gets 2-year prison term for visa fraud

Defendant named unwitting hospitals, non-profit organizations in bogus visa applications

LOS ANGELES – The owner of a Los Angeles employment agency was sentenced Monday morning to two years in prison on charges stemming from a probe that revealed she filed bogus work visa petitions on behalf of dozens of aliens she falsely claimed had been recruited for positions with prominent hospitals and non-profit organizations.

Lilia Tabafunda, 58, owner of People’s Resources International Services in the Wilshire Center district of Los Angeles, was sentenced to 24 months in prison for making erroneous statements on an employment visa petition for an alien she claimed was going to work for a local respiratory hospital. U.S. District Court Judge Audrey B. Collins also sentenced Tabafunda to serve a concurrent prison term of 12 months and one day for lying during her own interview for U.S. citizenship. In addition to the prison term, Judge Collins ordered Tabafunda to pay more than $54,000 in restitution. Finally, the defendant will face deportation upon completion of her prison term. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

In July 2013, Tabafunda pleaded guilty to charges which resulting from a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of the Inspector General. The investigation began in 2007 after HSI received a lead from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Fraud Detection and National Security Unit that Tabafunda was filing suspicious H-1B non-immigrant visa petitions.

"As this sentence makes clear, visa fraud is a serious offense and those who exploit our immigration system for their own enrichment will be held accountable," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. "Not only does visa fraud undermine the integrity of our legal immigration process and penalize those who abide by the law, it also poses a significant security vulnerability."

Court documents in the case allege that for nearly a decade Tabafunda used the names of nonexistent companies and non-profit organizations in fraudulent employment-based, non-immigrant visa petitions submitted to USCIS and DOL. According to the indictment, which was handed down in November 2012, Tabafunda falsely claimed her clients were being sought for positions by prominent organizations, including City of Hope, Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Los Angeles and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Among the jobs listed on the fraudulent employment visa petitions were budget analysts, clinical research specialists and "health educators."

Employment-based visas are normally issued when a business in the United States needs someone to fill a specific job and is unable to find a qualified employee in the domestic labor pool. The business can file a petition to allow a particular alien, who is qualified to fill the job, to enter the United States to work for the business.

According to court documents, Tabafunda charged her clients anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 to file visa petitions on their behalf. Most of Tabafunda’s clients were Philippine nationals who originally entered the United States on tourist visas.