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Document and Benefit Fraud

Los Angeles-area immigration consultant pleads guilty in visa fraud scheme

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles-area man pleaded Monday to visa fraud for filing bogus paperwork on behalf of businesses seeking temporary work visas and for fraudulently charging prospective immigrants in Mexico thousands of dollars for visas.

Carlos Alberto Silva, 29, of West Hills, Calif., was arrested in June at his business in Canoga Park, Calif., by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service. Silva pleaded guilty to visa fraud as part of a written plea agreement. The charges are the result of an investigation by ICE HSI and the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service as part of the multi-agency Los Angeles Benefit Fraud Task Force.

According to a criminal complaint filed June 7, Silva, who operated Silva and Associates, submitted fraudulent employment-based immigration petitions on behalf of legitimate business to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Department of Labor.  As part of the scheme, Silva was also involved with Mexican recruiting agencies that charged aliens approximately 50,000 pesos – $3,000 to $4,000 – to seek visas that would allow them to enter the United States.

"This conviction further demonstrates the Justice Department's commitment to prosecuting the notarios and scam artists who seek to victimize the most vulnerable among us – the hard-working men and women in our immigrant communities," said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr.

In the plea agreement, Silva admitted to falsely holding himself out as an attorney and offering legal services to businesses seeking help hiring unskilled temporary alien workers.  Silva also admitted filing fraudulent work visa petitions on behalf of his employer clients, claiming they needed more workers – and more work visas – than they actually requested from Silva.  Filing petitions with inflated numbers is known as "benching."

While he was operating Silva and Associates, Silva was also involved in several Mexico-based recruiting agencies, including "InterAmerica," "American Jobs" and "American Employment Agency Mexico SC." These businesses charged approximately 50,000 pesos – $3,000 to $4,000 – to seek visas on behalf of Mexican nationals. Federal regulations prohibit the approval of work-based immigration visa petitions if the alien pays a job-placement or other recruiting fee.  Silva admitted he knowingly and intentionally failed to disclose the payments by these aliens in the petitions filed with USCIS.

Silva remains in custody on $40,000 bond.  His sentencing is scheduled for November 7.  Visa fraud is a felony offense that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.