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Document and Benefit Fraud

Massachusetts Imam convicted of immigration fraud

BOSTON - A Sharon, Mass., man was convicted today in federal court of fraud and misuse of documents required by the immigration laws, making false statements in a matter relating to the registry of aliens, and making false statements to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

United States Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, Bruce Foucart, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New England, and Warren T. Bamford, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Boston Field Division, announced today that Muhammad Masood, age 49, of 74 Chase Drive, Sharon, Mass., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock to five counts of an indictment charging Masood with fraud and misuse of documents required by the immigration laws, making false statements in a matter relating to the registry of aliens, and making false statements to Citizenship and Immigration Services.

At today's plea hearing, the prosecutor told the Court that, had the case proceeded to trial, the government's evidence would have proven essentially the following:

Masood lied repeatedly, both orally and in writing, to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Citizenship and Immigration Services concerning facts material to his eligibility to become a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) of the United States, (commonly referred to as the holder of a "green card"), for which he had applied. In an application for LPR status submitted to the Immigration Service on or about Dec. 18, 2002, in a document submitted in support thereof on Jan. 31, 2005, and in interviews conducted under oath by immigration officials in matters relating to the registry of aliens on November 15, 2006, and February 13, 2003, Masood asserted that he had left the United States and returned to Pakistan during the two-year period from 1991 through 1993, as required as a condition of his Exchange Visitor visa. Moreover, he repeatedly asserted that, during that period of time, he had served as an Imam at a mosque in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Masood also lied about a prior arrest, which was material to the Immigration Service.

The defendant, Masood, came to this country as an economics student in 1987 pursuant to a J-1 visa. A J-1 visa is an Exchange Visitor visa, pursuant to a program which offers an opportunity to aliens who reside abroad to come to the United States to serve important interests for both countries. Because the purpose of this program is to benefit the home country and because the funding for the visitor is in part from the government, there are restrictions on a J-1 visitor from obtaining future U.S. immigration benefits. Particularly, to ensure that meaningful exchange occurs, the Exchange Visitor program has a two-year home country physical presence requirement, which means that a J-1 visa-holder must return to his home country for two years before he is eligible to apply for future immigration benefits. In other words, an alien cannot become a legal permanent resident unless he complies with this requirement or gets a waiver.

The evidence demonstrates that Masood left his economics program at Boston University in 1991 without a degree, when his J-1 visa expired. However, instead of returning to Pakistan as he was required to do under the Exchange Visitor program, Masood stayed in this country illegally. In 1998, while an undocumented alien, Masood became the Imam of a mosque in Sharon. On the basis of that employment, in December 2002, he applied for legal permanent residency, and commenced the series of false statements which are charged in the indictment.

The evidence shows that the defendant lied repeatedly over several years about his compliance with the J-1 visa requirement, and in order to cover-up those lies, told fictional stories about what he did in Pakistan during the two years he was supposed to return to Pakistan. He also told fictional stories with shifting details about how he re-entered the United States. The evidence indicates that the defendant never left the United States after 1990 and that he lived, worked, had children and even received traffic tickets in the Boston area during the time that he claimed to have gone back to Pakistan. The evidence also shows that Masood lied about a number of additional facts for purposes of obtaining benefits in the United States, such as for housing, public assistance, and a driver's license.

Judge Woodlock scheduled sentencing for May 22, 2008. Masood faces up to 10 years' imprisonment for each of the counts charging fraud and misuse of documents required by the immigration laws, and 5 years' imprisonment for the charges of false statements and false statements in a matter relating to the registry of aliens, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release, up to a $250,000 fine and a mandatory special assessment of $100 on each charge.

The case was investigated by special agents of ICE and the FBI assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Aloke Chakravarty and Jeffrey Auerhahn of Sullivan's Anti-Terrorism and National Security Unit.