H-1B Visa Scam Investigation Digs Up Dirt

A two-and-a-half-year investigation yields one of the most bizarre cases of alleged visa fraud in the history of California. Fictitious companies for H-1B visas? Check. Exploitation of immigrants? Check. Money laundering via cemetery plots? Oh, indeed.

An immigration lawyer in West Covina, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, and his business partners have been charged with visa fraud in relation to an elaborate scheme targeting immigrants, according to a report from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Kelly Einstein Darwin Giles, 46, and two of his associates, the married couple of Joseph Wai-man Wu and May Yin-man Wu, were arrested Oct. 15 for allegedly applying for H-1B visas, setting up at least a dozen fake companies and charging immigrants large sums of money for the visas as entry in to the United States.
According to the ICE, the group is accused of selling the illegally obtained visas, including those in the H-1B category, for prices ranging from $6,000 to over $50,000. With the illegal proceeds from the immigrants, the group allegedly then purchased empty cemetery plots and plaques in Rose Hills Memorial Park, in Whittier, Calif., to hide the funds.
Why empty burial plots? Funeral professionals say these plots are considered investments that can grow at a rate of 10 percent a year, according to the ICE news release Oct. 16. ICE said this may be the first case of money laundering involving cemetery plots in California's history.
"Cemetery plots are certainly a novel way to attempt to launder the proceeds from criminal activity, but as this case shows, we will follow the money trail wherever it leads," Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton in the news release. "ICE's message is simple-America's legal immigration system is not for sale, and we will investigate and prosecute those who compromise the integrity of our system simply to enrich themselves."
The feds have seized over 30 cemetery plots involved in the scheme, and are working to potentially uncover more, said the report.
The L.A. Times wrote on the subject:

""'It's unique in the sense that we haven't run into this before that an individual seeking to hide proceeds goes out and purchases cemetery plots,' said Jorge Guzman, ICE assistant special agent in charge. 'There are always new ways in which criminals will try and hide money, but this is by far one of the most unique.'"Customs agents searched Giles' office Thursday and seized immigration applications and documents, financial records and computer equipment. The investigation is currently focused on the three individuals, but other suspects may be identified in the future, Guzman said. Investigators also will work to identify those who obtained the fake work visas, which will be revoked, he said.""

Several meetings between the group and at least one visa holder were recorded:
"One of those clients agreed to secretly record two of his meetings with Giles and Joseph Wu. The affidavit contains excerpts from those recorded conversations in which Giles tells the cooperating witness not to be concerned about lying to investigators, saying 'they will make threats in hopes that someone will ... crack,' but they are 'bluffing,'" said the report.
The investigation took two-and-a-half years and was performed in conjunction with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"This case is a perfect example of the effective collaboration between ICE and USCIS to combat fraud and protect the integrity of our immigration system," Jane Arellano, district director for USCIS in Los Angeles, said in the ICE release.
The big question, however, is whether this case will weaken support for the H-1B visa program and help boost stronger, more proactive audit measures such as those that Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is fighting for in his proposed legislation.