Employment Agency Owner Charged with H-1B Fraud

11/02/2012

The owner of a Los Angeles employment agency has been indicted on immigration fraud charges for allegedly filing more than 100 phony H-1B visa petitions on behalf of aliens she falsely claimed had been recruited for positions with prominent hospitals and non-profit organizations.

Lilia Tabafunda, 57, the owner of People's Resources International Services in the Wilshire Center district of Los Angeles, was named in a 10-count indictment returned Thursday afternoon by a federal grand jury. The indictment charges Tabafunda with nine counts of visa fraud and one count of perjury. Two of the charges involve alleged fraud and false statements related to Tabafunda's own naturalization application.

The charges are the result of a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General. The investigation began in 2007 after HSI received a lead from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS) Fraud Detection and National Security Unit that Tabafunda was filing suspicious H-1B non-immigrant visa petitions.

Tabafunda was arrested Oct. 15 by HSI after she attempted to board a Mexico-bound cruise ship, despite prior instructions from special agents not to leave the country. Tabafunda made her initial court appearance the following day and was released on $50,000 bond.

Court documents in the case allege that for nearly a decade, Tabafunda used the names of shell companies and non-profit organizations in fraudulent employment-based, non-immigrant visa petitions submitted to USCIS and the U.S. Department of Labor. According to the indictment, Tabafunda falsely claimed that her clients were being sought for positions by prominent organizations, including City of Hope, Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Los Angeles and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Among the jobs listed on the fraudulent employment visa petitions were budget analysts, clinical research specialists and "health educators."

According to court documents, Tabafunda charged her clients anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 to file visa petitions on their behalf. Most of her clients were Philippine nationals who originally entered the United States on tourist visas.

"Immigration fraud is a serious national problem and this indictment is an outstanding example of all levels of the government working together to fight fraud," said Rosemary Langley Melville, director, USCIS California Service Center. "USCIS officers encountered this scam while processing requests for immigration benefits and worked seamlessly with federal partners to identify and investigate this case. We will continue to identify those who threaten the integrity of our immigration system."

Tabafunda is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment Nov. 13 in U.S. District Court. If she is convicted of all 10 counts in the indictment, Tabafunda would face a maximum statutory penalty of 95 years in federal prison.

[Source:  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Press Release].

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