Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Two Companies and Nine Individuals Indicted for Alleged Large-Scale Visa Fraud Employment Scheme
An indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia has been unsealed charging two businesses and nine of their officers and managers located across the country for their roles in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and commit various fraud and criminal immigration offenses for profit.
According to court documents, Regal Hospitality Solutions, LLC; Educational World, Inc.; Karen Makaryan, 42, Sargis Makaryan, 42, and Samvel Nikoghosyan, 40, of Destrehan, La.; Artur Grigoryan, 38, of Biloxi, Miss.; Armen Ayrapetyan, 37, of Duluth, Ga.; Jason Hill, 28, of Virginia Beach, Va.; Fremie Balbastro, 49, of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Larisa Khariton, 73, and Jon Clark, 71, of North Port, Fla., were charged in a 36-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on April 8. Each defendant was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States, including encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, transporting aliens, and visa fraud. Each defendant also was charged with substantive counts of encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, and transportation of aliens. In addition, Regal Hospitality Solutions, LLC; Karen Makaryan; Sargis Makaryan; Samvel Nikoghosyan; Artur Grigoryan; Armen Ayrapetyan; Fremie Balbastro; and Jason Hill were also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.
“The defendants in this case allegedly engaged in an expansive conspiracy to enrich themselves by exploiting both the immigration system and noncitizen workers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Systemic fraud and abuse of U.S. visa programs and processes designed to protect American workers and businesses will not be tolerated, and offenders will be held accountable.”
“Hospitality venues often struggle with finding workers, and in recent years that has been an even greater challenge,” said Acting U.S. Attorney David H. Estes for the Southern District of Georgia. “Agencies that provide workers can be exceptionally helpful in such circumstances – but they must provide that assistance in accordance with the law. In this case, businesses in St. Simons Island were among those allegedly exploited along with the illegally provided workers.”
“The Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange,” said Acting Assistant Inspector General for Investigations Robert Smolich of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations. “When bad actors corrupt these programs for personal gain, it not only diminishes an important tool of diplomacy, it harms the thousands of individuals who participate in these programs hoping to gain skills and experience to make a better life. Today we took a step forward in restoring integrity back to those programs.”
“These defendants’ alleged scheme to game the immigration system and defraud the government has backfired and they will now be held accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Georgia and Alabama. “Schemes like this not only exploit the noncitizen workers involved, they also damage the other legitimate businesses in the community. Protecting the integrity of the visa program and immigration system is vital to the security of our nation.”
According to the indictment, from an unknown date through at least May 2017, the individual defendants enriched themselves by participating in a scheme to recruit and hire noncitizen laborers without authorization to work for defendant Regal Hospitality Solutions, LLC (RHS). RHS allegedly entered into contracts to provide hospitality-related businesses with lawful laborers to work in housekeeping, retail, and foodservice positions. To fill those positions, RHS defendants hired noncitizens who were not authorized to work for RHS in the United States. In some cases, the RHS defendants arranged for and provided housing and transportation to the workers.
The defendants and other co-conspirators also allegedly encouraged and induced noncitizen laborers on expiring and expired J-1 exchange visitor visas to obtain B-2 tourist visas and to work in the United States for RHS, knowing that employing such laborers on B-2 visas was illegal. Educational World, Inc. (Ed World) – a visa preparation company – and the Ed World defendants, after charging noncitizen laborers approximately $650 per application, prepared and submitted applications for B-2 visas on behalf of the workers, which contained false and misleading statements designed to indicate that the noncitizens intended to obtain the B-2 visa for the purpose of engaging in tourism and that the noncitizens were complying with United States immigration laws. In fact, the Ed World defendants knew that those noncitizens were already present in and intended to stay in the United States for employment, not tourism.
The indictment further alleges that the Ed World defendants submitted petitions for H-2B temporary work visas that contained false and misleading information about the location where noncitizen laborers allegedly were to be employed. RHS paid a commission to Ed World for noncitizens Ed World recruited to work for RHS, including those who were not authorized to work for RHS in the United States.
According to the indictment, RHS and the RHS defendants also made false and misleading representations that RHS would staff positions at the hospitality establishments contracting with RHS only with laborers who were legally authorized to work for RHS in the United States.
Individual defendants have made their initial court appearances and the arraignment of all defendants will be scheduled before U.S. Magistrate Judge Benjamin W. Cheesbro of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. If convicted, the individual defendants face maximum potential statutory penalties of five years in prison on the count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States; 10 years in prison on the counts of encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, and transportation of aliens; and 20 years in prison on the counts of wire fraud conspiracy and substantive wire fraud. The organizational defendants are subject to a maximum fine on each count of conviction of $500,000 or twice the gross amount of gain or loss resulting from the offense. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General is investigating the case with assistance provided by HSI and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.