Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Operation Shell Games," or How Not to Get Business Visas to the US

Business immigration to the US is a creative field. Typically a lawyer's advice will keep the creativity on the right side of the law. Sometimes the advice will put the lawyer and the client's in a legal gray zone, witness Fragomen's recent troubles. And there is always room for an entrepreneur to take the immigration into the fraud and conspiracy zone.

A couple of days ago an indictment was filed against a Macao businessman after the conclusion of an investigation by the US Attorney's office and the Diplomatic Security Service called "Operation Shell Games." It is alleged that this entrepreneurial fellow setup three shell companies in Northern California's Bay Area. Invitation letters were sold from these companies to Chinese citizens for up to $16,000 a piece. Visas were then applied for at American Embassies in China using the invitation letters and claims of doing business with the shell companies.

Here's the list of charges:
one count of Conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, eight counts of Visa Fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546, six counts of Harboring Aliens for Financial Gain, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1324, and one count of Money Laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956. The maximum statutory penalty for these violations is five years imprisonment per count.
Whoops!

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