June 9 at 9:45 a.m. PDT
LOS ANGELES – Federal authorities have arrested a West Hills man on visa fraud charges for allegedly filing bogus paperwork on behalf of businesses seeking temporary work visas, as well as charging prospective immigrants in Mexico thousands of dollars for visas.
Carlos Alberto Silva, 29, of West Hills, was arrested Tuesday at his business in Canoga Park by special agents with the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A criminal complaint filed Tuesday in United States District Court charges Silva with visa fraud. The complaint alleges that Silva, who operated Silva and Associates in Canoga Park, submitted fraudulent employment-based immigration petitions on behalf of legitimate business to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the United States Department of Labor to obtain work visas for alien workers. As part of the scheme, Silva allegedly also was involved with Mexican recruitment agencies that charged aliens approximately 50,000 pesos – $3,000 to $4,000 – to seek visas that would allow them to enter the United States.
“We are committed to prosecuting notarios who operate as scam artists and victimize the most vulnerable among us – the hard-working men and women in our immigrant communities,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr.
According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Silva held himself out as an attorney and offered legal services to businesses that needed help hiring unskilled temporary alien workers. However, from mid-2008 through the end of 2009, Silva allegedly filed on behalf of his clients fraudulent petitions that falsely claimed the businesses needed more employees – and more work visas – than the businesses actually had requested from Silva. Filing petitions with inflated numbers is known as “benching.”
While he was operating Silva and Associates, Silva was also involved in several Mexico-based recruitment agencies with names such as “InterAmerica,” “American Jobs” and “American Employment Agency Mexico SC.” These businesses charged aliens approximately 50,000 pesos – $3,000 to $4,000 – each to seek visas on their behalf. Federal regulations prohibit the approval of work-based immigration visa petitions if the alien pays a job-placement or other recruiting fee. The complaint alleges that Silva did not disclose the payments by the aliens in the fraudulent petitions filed with USCIS.
At his initial court appearance yesterday afternoon, Silva was freed on a $40,000 bond. He is scheduled to be arraigned in the federal case on July 5.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The complaint charges Silva with visa fraud, a felony offense that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
The case against Silva was investigated by the United States Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force.
The case against Silva was announced today in conjunction with the unveiling of a national initiative to combat immigration services scams, an initiative targeting individuals who offer legal advice, representation and other “professional” assistance in immigration matters even though they are not licensed or qualified to do so.
The United States Attorney’s Office will participate in the initiative as part of its ongoing efforts to prosecute “notarios” who prey upon immigrant communities.
In one case prosecuted by the office, a Cuban national who was ordered deported, but later preyed upon other aliens by charging up to $2,500 to “represent” them in Immigration Court, was sentenced to 61 months in federal prison (see: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/pressroom/pr2010/101.html).
In another case, a Los Angeles man who advertised immigration law services in Hebrew-language newspapers faces up to 18 years in prison when he is sentenced next month on visa fraud and tax fraud charges. Samuel Klein was retained by hundreds of Israeli nationals who paid as much as $7,000 for Klein to file various work visa petitions on which Klein fraudulently claimed that his clients were qualified religious workers who were wanted for employment by New York religious institutions (see: http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1101/110106losangeles.htm).
CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Keri Curtis Axel
Immigration Fraud Coordinator
Release No. 11-083