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Document and Benefit Fraud
07/28/2009

Salt Lake City law firm charged with alien smuggling and visa fraud

Firm allegedly aided companies to fraudulently obtain employment visas, costing U.S. workers jobs

SALT LAKE CITY - Salt Lake City's largest immigration law firm, its owner, and several of the firm's employees, are among the defendants named today in a 17-count indictment charging them with conspiracy to commit alien smuggling and visa fraud for their role in a scheme that allegedly enabled thousands of foreign nationals to illegally obtain jobs with area companies.

The indictment unsealed this morning alleges the Alcala law Firm, and its owner James Hector Alcala, helped Utah companies obtain H-2B visas for their foreign national workers by fraudulently representing the aliens were eligible for work visas when they were not. Investigators have linked the defendants to more than 5,000 individual visas, many of which were likely obtained fraudulently. The firm's clients included landscaping, construction, and roofing companies as well as a property maintenance business.

The investigation, which began 18 months ago, was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In addition to Alcala, 41, and the law firm, the other defendants in the case are:

  • Carlos Manuel Vorher, 43, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent employed by the Alcala Law Firm;
  • Andres Lorenzo Acosta Parra, 31, a former employee at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, who worked at Alcala's firm as a visa assistant;
  • Westside Property Management, a Salt Lake County company; 
  • Carlos Enrique Gomez-Alvarez, 41, formerly of Salt Lake City now living in Houston;
  • Daniel Trigo Villavicencio, 30, of Orem, Utah;
  • Gustavo Ballesteros-Munoz, 45, of West Jordan, Utah;
  • Florentino Jose Ayala Villarreal, 39, of Mexico; and
  • Olga Adriana Garza Muniz, 47, of Mexico.

The maximum penalty for conspiracy to commit alien smuggling and visa fraud is five years in prison. Encouraging and inducing illegal aliens to enter or remain in the United States and visa fraud each carry a maximum sentence of up to 10 years.

"The charges in this indictment allege that attorneys and others who worked at the law firm, who have a position of trust in our community, circumvented the law to obtain visas for employers and the foreign national workers they were employing in Utah," U.S. Attorney Brett L. Tolman said today. "The laws that govern the issuance of visas are there to make the practice fair for everyone. When fraud is used in an attempt to get a visa, other workers, including foreign nationals and U.S. workers and employers, who have played by the rules, get hurt."

"ICE's message is simple - America's legal immigration system is not for sale and we will move aggressively against those who compromise the integrity of that system simply to enrich themselves," said Paul Maldonado, deputy special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Utah. "Not only did the defendants in this case allegedly use fraudulent information to obtain employment visas for hundreds, possibly thousands of people who weren't authorized to work, regrettably we believe this scheme also led to untold numbers of U.S. citizens and legal workers being refused jobs or discouraged from applying at all."

"The U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service is resolutely committed to investigate any and all allegations of passport and visa fraud, and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice," said Ed Moreno, assistant director for domestic operations for DSS, whose office assisted in the joint investigation of the case.

Daniel R. Petrole, acting inspector general, U. S. Department of Labor, stated, "Today's indictments serve as a stern warning to those who would fraudulently abuse the foreign labor certification program for their personal gain. Facilitating the entry of workers into this nation under false pretenses corrupts a program designed to ensure the lawful admission of foreign labor under very specific conditions. Our agency remains committed with its law enforcement partners to investigate fraud committed against these Department of Labor programs."

"It is through our due diligence and the great partnerships with law enforcement agencies that we are able to detect and curtail fraud within our immigration system," said Robert Mather, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Denver district director.

The H-2B visa program allows U.S. companies to hire temporary foreign workers when they cannot recruit U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. To obtain H-2B visas, employers must demonstrate there are not enough U.S. citizens to fill the vacancies. The companies must also show that alien workers who are in the United States when the visa petition is filed are here legally.

According to the indictment, the defendants instructed clients how to manipulate the H-2B visa program, including encouraging employers to petition for more H-2B visas than they needed so the conspirators could "swap" foreign-national workers from one employer to another. As part of the conspiracy, the defendants allegedly submitted forms indicating their clients were looking for "new" foreign workers, when they were actually seeking to obtain visas for existing alien employees. The defendants also took out newspaper ads to make it appear their employer clients were seeking to hire U.S. workers, but the pay rates advertised were substantially lower than what the foreign national workers were receiving.