HOUSTON - Twin brothers from Brownsville, Texas, were sentenced to prison on Monday for their role in a conspiracy to obtain fraudulent work visas for numerous Indian nationals in exchange for at least $20,000 per visa. The sentences were announced by U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson, Southern District of Texas.
The convictions and sentences resulted from a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional investigation jointly led by the following federal agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service with the assistance of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation Division and the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General.
Alberto and Bernardo Pena, 40, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas to 41 months and 30 months imprisonment, respectively. The brothers were found guilty of all 16 counts charged against each of them during a two-week jury trial in April 2009. The guilty verdicts included one count of conspiracy, 14 counts of encouraging and inducing illegal immigration, and one count of money laundering.
The jury found the Pena brothers had encouraged and induced 88 individuals from Gujarat, India, to unlawfully enter the United States on temporary H-2B visas. The twin brothers knew that the Indian nationals did not intend to work for the company used to get their visas, or return to India at the expiration of their 10-month visas. The scheme generated an estimated $1.8 million in illegal profits for the brothers.
An H-2B visa is a category of non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. employers to hire alien workers for temporary non-agricultural work if the employer can demonstrate there are no qualified U.S. workers to perform the jobs, and that hiring alien workers will not adversely affect local wages. Only 66,000 visas may be issued per year under the H-2B visa program.
Court evidence revealed that Charles Keith Viscardi owned and managed a construction company located in New Iberia, La. He enlisted AMEB Business Group Inc., a visa facilitation firm owned and operated by Alberto and Bernardo Pena and Marte Villar, 50, of Matamoros, Mexico, to procure foreign manual labor under the H-2B visa program. AMEB did in fact procure laborers from Mexico for the construction company.
The principals of AMEB, including Alberto Pena, also submitted documentation to the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services and other governmental agencies allegedly seeking workers from India on behalf of the construction company.
Co-defendants Mahendra "Mack" Patel, 56, of Ft. Worth, Texas, and Rakesh Patel, 40, a Houston pharmacist, recruited citizens of India who were willing to pay $20,000 to $60,000 in exchange for visas to enter the United States. Alberto and Bernardo Pena traveled to India to assist the Indian nationals with the application process. They also visited and corresponded with the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai.
Each of the Indian nationals granted H-2B visas came to Houston where Mack and Rakesh Patel collected payments for the visas in the form of cash as well as cashier's checks and money orders purchased throughout the country.
None of the Indian nationals were ever employed at the construction company. Instead, they simply dispersed throughout the United States after paying for their fraudulently obtained visas.
Trial testimony revealed that at least some of the Indian nationals whose relatives had paid $35,000 in cash for their visas had been working at gas stations and convenience stores owned and operated by those relatives without having received a paycheck during the three years since they entered the country. All of the conspirators, including Alberto and Bernardo Pena, shared in the proceeds derived from the scheme.
Viscardi pleaded guilty for his involvement in the scheme, cooperated with authorities and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Atlas on Dec. 16 at 3 p.m. Mack and Rakesh Patel also pleaded guilty and will be sentenced the same date at 1 p.m. Charges remain pending against Villar, who remains a fugitive from justice.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason Varnado and Gregg Costa, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting this case.