New Jersey IT CEO charged with defrauding worker visa program
NEWARK — A New Jersey CEO was arrested Monday pursuant to an indictment charging him, two information technology companies that he partly owns, and an employee with fraudulently using the H-1B visa program to reduce skilled labor costs. The charges resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Department of Labor and the IRS.
Sowrabh Sharma, 31, of New York, is charged – along with SCM Data Inc., a New Jersey corporation, MMC Systems Inc., a Virginia corporation, and Shikha Mohta, 33, of Jersey City, New Jersey, the head of finance for the companies – with one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and to obstruct justice and one count of conspiracy to harbor aliens. Mohta was previously arrested in May 2015 on a criminal complaint and was released on a $100,000 bond.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
SCM Data and MMC Systems offered consultants to clients in need of IT support. Both companies recruited foreign nationals, often student visa holders or recent college graduates, and sponsored them for H-1B visas. The H-1B program allows businesses in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers with specialized or technical expertise in a particular field, such as accounting, engineering or computer science. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS) was empowered to approve and process applications for residency within the United States, and the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) was charged with the enforcement of the requirements of labor regulations, including immigration-related employment standards and worker protections.
SCM Data, MMC Systems, Sharma, Mohta and other conspirators recruited foreign workers with purported IT expertise who sought work in the United States. The conspirators then sponsored the foreign workers’ H-1B visas with the stated purpose of working for SCM Data and MMC Systems’ clients throughout the United States. When submitting the visa paperwork to USCIS, the conspirators falsely represented that the foreign workers had full-time positions and were paid an annual salary, as required to secure the H-1B visas. Contrary to these representations and in violation of the H-1B program, SCM Data, MMC Systems, Sharma, Mohta, and others paid the foreign workers only when they were placed at a third-party client who entered into a contract with SCM Data or MMC Systems.
In some instances, SCM Data, MMC Systems, Sharma, Mohta, and others generated false payroll records to create the appearance that the foreign workers were paid full-time wages. The conspirators required workers to pay SCM Data or MMC Systems their gross wages in cash. In exchange, SCM Data or MMC Systems would issue payroll checks to the foreign workers in a smaller amount. The conspirators then encouraged the foreign workers to submit the bogus payroll checks to USCIS as proof that the workers were engaged in full-time work despite the fact that they were not working for SCM Data and MMC Systems.
Once USDOL launched an audit of SCM Data and MMC Systems, the conspirators provided fabricated leave or vacation slips to USDOL for the time periods that the foreign workers were not working in order to conceal the fact that they were not paid during those time periods as required by federal law.
The visa fraud and obstruction of justice conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The alien harboring conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because they are indictable offenses, the charges will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment.