ATLANTA - A 63-year-old of Duluth, Ga., pleaded guilty today in federal district court to one count of filing a false document with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in a fraudulent effort to assist a client in obtaining legal immigration status in the United States following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force investigation.
According to the charges and other information presented in court, Sai Hyun Lee, a licensed attorney in Georgia, charged an alien seeking lawful status in the United States $25,000 to substitute the client on an approved labor certificate that had been issued to an employer but for a different foreign worker.
Lee then assisted her client in using the labor certificate to apply for lawful resident status in the United States based upon employment, with knowledge that the client did not work for the employer and did not intend to work for the employer to which the labor certificate was issued, as is required by federal law.
Based upon the application which fraudulently represented that Lee's client was working in compliance with the approved labor certificate, the client obtained legal status as a lawful resident alien. Lee's client never worked for the employer and the employer was not aware that Lee used the labor certificate to assist her client in obtaining legal status.
Further investigation revealed that Lee assisted at least 16 other aliens in the same way. In some instances, aliens who hired Lee to help them obtain legal status did not know they were supposed to be working for a particular employer when they became legal resident aliens. In many instances, the employers did not know that Lee used labor certificates issued to them to assist her clients in obtaining lawful status through fraud.
"Immigration fraud poses a severe threat to national security and public safety because it creates a vulnerability that may enable terrorists, criminals, and illegal aliens to gain entry to and remain in the United States," said Kenneth Smith, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Atlanta. "ICE will continue using its Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces to target unscrupulous attorneys who knowingly circumvent our immigration laws and procedures for financial reasons."
Daniel R. Petrole, acting inspector general, Department of Labor, stated: "Today's guilty plea is the result of a successful collaboration between the Office of the U. S. Attorney, ICE and the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General. This investigation uncovered an immigration lawyer who sought to personally profit by defrauding the foreign labor certification process. My office is committed to working with the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force to bring to justice individuals who perpetrate these crimes."
U. S. employers who can demonstrate a particular need for a foreign worker may apply to the Department of Labor for a labor certification for the foreign worker. Once the employer obtains a labor certification, the employer may apply for an immigrant visa and adjustment of status for the foreign worker. After the approval of the visa application and change of status, the foreign worker is afforded the benefit of lawful permanent residence in the United States and is expected to begin working for the employer who petitioned to bring him to the United States.
Lee faces a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. She also agreed to forfeit to the United States $100,000 which represents the fees that she charged the 17 aliens to assist them in submitting fraudulent applications for legal status.
Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 18, 2010, before U. S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Jr.
Assistant U. S. Attorneys William L. McKinnon, Jr., Susan Coppedge and Mary Kruger are prosecuting the case.