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Document and Benefit Fraud

Missouri landscaping business and owner charged with visa fraud

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — A local landscaping company and the business' owner were indicted Friday on charges of fraudulently obtaining H-2B worker visas to support the business. The indictment resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG).

Robert Brake, 33, of Byrnes Mill, Mo., and Brake Landscaping & Lawncare Inc. in St. Louis, were each indicted on one felony count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud.

The H-2B non-immigrant visa program permits U.S. employers to bring foreign workers to the United States to fill temporary, non-agricultural services on a one-time, seasonal or intermittent basis. There is a set limit on the number of aliens who may receive H-2B visa status during each government fiscal year.

According to the indictment, between March 2007 and February 2010, Robert Brake and his company illegally sub-contracted H-2B workers to an associate on a weekly basis at a profit of more than $2 an hour per alien. The indictment also alleges that in order to facilitate illegal year-round employment of temporary H-2B visa workers, Brake incorporated Brake Snow and Ice Removal, artificially crediting a need for temporary or seasonal workers that didn't actually exist. Brake Snow and Ice Removal was essentially the same company as Brake Landscaping.

"Visa fraud not only undermines the integrity of our nation's legal immigration system, it also poses a significant security vulnerability," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge for HSI Chicago.

James Vanderberg, special agent in charge of DOL-OIG in Chicago observed that, "Submission of fraudulent labor certification applications not only cheat workers here legally but pose a security risk to this country."

Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000.

Assistant United States Attorney John J. Ware, Eastern District of Missouri, is prosecuting the case. The U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also assisted in the investigation.