Three indictments were unsealed Wednesday, charging eight individuals from around the country with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harboring aliens for profit, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Six of the defendants were arrested in metro Detroit. Two others were arrested in Lake Mary, Florida; and Culpeper, Virginia.
The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider and HSI Detroit Special Agent in Charge Steve Francis.
Charged in the indictments were:
Barath Kakireddy, 29, of Lake Mary; Suresh Kandala, 31, of Culpeper; Phanideep Karnati, 35, of Louisville, Kentucky; Prem Rampeesa, 26, of Charlotte, North Carolina; Santosh Sama, 28, of Fremont, California; Avinash Thakkallapally, 28, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Aswanth Nune, 26, of Atlanta, Georgia; and Naveen Prathipati, 26, of Dallas, Texas.
According to the indictments, from approximately February 2017 through January 2019, the defendants, a group of foreign citizens, conspired with each other and others to facilitate hundreds of foreign nationals in illegally remaining and working in the United States by actively recruiting them to enroll into a metro Detroit private university that, unbeknownst to the conspirators, was operated by HSI special agents as part of an undercover operation. As part of the scheme, the defendants/recruiters assisted foreign citizen “students” in fraudulently obtaining immigration documents from the school and facilitated the creation of false student records, including transcripts, for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities. The illegal documents obtained as a result of the conspirators’ actions were based on false claims, false statements, and fraud since the purported foreign students had no intention of attending school, nor attended a single class, and were not bona fide students. All participants in the scheme knew that the school had no instructors or actual classes. The defendants intended to help shield and hide their customers/"students" from United States immigration authorities for money and collectively profited in excess of a quarter of a million dollars as a result of their scheme.
"We are all aware that international students can be a valuable asset to our country, but as this case shows, the well-intended international student visa program can also be exploited and abused,” stated United States Attorney Matthew Schneider.
If convicted, the defendants face a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.
Since 2015, the case was investigated by special agents from the Detroit HSI field office.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ronald Waterstreet, Timothy McDonald and Brandon Helms with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. Every defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.