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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Houston attorney returns to the US to face alien smuggling and other charges

HOUSTON - After spending three years as a fugitive in China, a local immigration attorney returned to the United States on Friday to face various charges, including visa fraud and money laundering.  This announcement was made today by U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle, Southern District of Texas.

Kenneth L. Rothey, 69 - along with Horacio H. Golfarini, 46, and Norman Chapa, 52, both of Houston - was indicted March 8, 2005 and charged with conspiracy involving an intricate scheme to smuggle Chinese nationals into the United States by committing visa fraud, money laundering and encouraging Chinese nationals to unlawfully enter the United States.  Golfarini and Chapa were sentenced to prison times of 18 months and 12 months plus one day, respectively, following their guilty pleas in June 2007.

Rothey voluntarily returned to the United States after meeting with ICE, the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, and the U.S. Embassy's American Citizens Services in Beijing.  Rothey arrived in the United States June 27 at Dulles Airport in Virginia in the company of ICE agents; he faces trial before U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison upon his return to Houston.

"ICE is pleased that immigration attorney Kenneth Rothey finally returned to the U.S. to answer for his visa fraud indictment," said special agent in charge of ICE in Houston.  "Visa fraud creates dangerous vulnerabilities in the immigration system.  This indictment and the convictions so far in this case send a clear message that ICE will pursue criminal charges even against those who try to hide outside our borders."

"The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to working with ICE and other law enforcement agencies to investigate and bring to justice criminal suspects who seek refuge abroad," said Gregory B. Starr, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.  "It's this type of close, worldwide law enforcement coordination that permits Diplomatic Security and its partner agencies to locate, pursue and apprehend fugitives."

According to the indictment, the defendants used at least eight U.S. businesses to act as petitioners on behalf of 10 Chinese clients willing to pay to obtain U.S. permanent residence status through employment-based visas.  The defendants created an illusory relationship between Chinese and U.S. companies by having representatives from the U.S. companies enter into contracts of sale with the Chinese companies in exchange for an initial fee.  Once each of the eight U.S. companies were shown on paper as a subsidiary of a Chinese company, the defendants prepared and presented fraudulent petitions and supporting documents on behalf of their clients with the former U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Golfarini owned and operated Capitol Services Group, a brokerage firm.  He admitted that between January 1999 and December 2002, while he worked at Rothey's law offices, he concealed the source of the money obtained from Chinese clients willing to pay up to $100,000 apiece for immigrant visas and work authorization.  Golfarini also used the Capitol Services Group to promote the visa fraud scheme by paying recruiters who located Houston-based businesses willing to enter into contracts of sale with Chinese-based businesses and to pay representatives of the Houston-based businesses down payments between $20,000 and $30,000 toward the purported sale.

Chapa pleaded guilty in June 2005 to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and to encouraging unlawful immigration.  He admitted that he and the others created two shell companies in the United States which also had an illusory relationship with a Chinese company so Chinese nationals could obtain immigration benefits.  The Rothey law firm filed paperwork with the government falsely representing that various Chinese clients were seeking positions with the U.S. companies as multinational executives or managers.

Rothey is charged with nine counts of encouraging unlawful immigration, 12 counts of visa fraud, and with various money laundering charges relating to financial transactions conducted with $267,000 in proceeds paid to them by their Chinese clients.  The government is seeking forfeiture of more than $490,000 in proceeds earned from the defendants' visa fraud scheme.  If convicted, Rothey faces up to five years imprisonment and a fine up to $250,000 for the immigration fraud conspiracy count, 10 years imprisonment and a fine up to $250,000 for each count of encouraging unlawful immigration, up to 15 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for each count of visa fraud, and up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine up to $500,000 for each count relating to money laundering.  Rothey made his initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Virginia June 30.  He is expected to remain in federal custody pending his transfer to Houston in the near future. Rothey is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

A fourth defendant, Ricardo Aguirre, 53, of Houston, was charged separately with conspiracy to encourage unlawful immigration, and for committing visa fraud for his involvement in the scheme.  He was sentenced to five years probation and a $5,000 fine in February 2007.  Aguirre worked for Rothey and admitted he paid U.S. business owners about $20,000 each for creating fraudulent subsidiary relationships with Chinese companies to sponsor employment-based visas for Chinese clients.  The payments were made as a down payment by a Chinese company to purchase a controlling interest in the U.S. company, but the deals were never consummated.  Rothey and Golfarini paid Aguirre a commission for each U.S. company successfully recruited into the scheme.

Administrative action, including deportation proceedings, was undertaken against all Chinese nationals that obtained or attempted to obtain immigration benefits by fraud through the Rothey law firm.

The investigation into the scheme was initiated in May 2001 after ICE (then INS) received complaints about Rothey.  Authorities subsequently executed a search warrant at Rothey's law office and Golfarini's business in July 2004.  The Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations Division assisted ICE in the overall investigation.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Douglas Davis and Gregg Costa, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting this case.