The California law firm ASK Law Group, formerly known as Korenberg, Abramowitz & Feldun (KAF), is in big trouble. It was recently indicted for immigration fraud of a somewhat unusual kind—H-1B visas. Two Los Angeles area bodyshops, as the massive H-1B labor contractors are called, have also been linked to the fraud scheme.
Several lawyers were indicted. At least one of them, Dan E. Korenberg is a card-carrying member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Many of those who participated in the fraud ring have already pleaded guilty. But Korenberg and his partner Steven Rodriguez said they are going to fight the charges. [Two immigration attorneys indicted in visa fraud case By Dan Laidman Copley News Service March 2, 2007]
A March 1 Department of Justice press release quotes Robert Schoch, Special Agent in Charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles, saying that, "the fact that the defendants in this case earned their living practicing immigration law makes the charges particularly disturbing".
Schoch may be disturbed but he shouldn't be surprised. The standards of the immigration bar are remarkably low.
KAF did several things that could land the defendants in jail. These three could be the most damning:
1) KAF filed for H-1B visas while the aliens worked and were paid in cash. This was a sneaky way of keeping the aliens off the books until the visas could be issued. At a minimum KAF and the bodyshops violated the Code of Federal Regulations (20 CFR 655.705), which forbids employers to hire the alien before the H-1B visa is approved. They probably also violated tax codes, which ultimately could be a bigger problem for them. As we all know, immigration violations aren't taken very seriously by the federal government. But tax evasion is.
2) KAF and the bodyshops are accused of
falsifying the qualifications of their alien paralegals.
This charge is rather weak because there is nothing to
stop law firms from hiring paralegals, secretaries, or
whatever else on H-1B visas—it's not that uncommon. The
Dept. of Justice claims that the law firm filed Labor
Condition Applications for computer/IT professionals but
used the visas for
paralegals. Falsified applications would be in
violation of regulations that require employers to state
accurately what type of job the
H-1B visa will be used for and what qualifications
and skills are needed for the job (20 CFR 655.805).
Most companies nailed for this sort of obscuration get light penalties, such as debarment from hiring H-1Bs for 6 months to a year. The KAF attorneys might beat this accusation by claiming that they wanted paralegals who had Java computer programming experience or secretaries with advanced engineering degrees.
3) The DOJ press release says that "Employment-based visas normally are issued when a business in the United States needs a person to fill a specific job and is unable to find a qualified employee in the U.S. labor pool." The key phrase here: "normally are issued". That isn't a legal requirement, it's wishful thinking. . Employers don't have to consider Americans first unless they are designated as H-1B dependent, (according to Dr. Norm Matloff only one-tenth of 1% of the companies are H-1B dependent, which means that more than 15% of their employees are H-1Bs) or they have been deemed a willful violator of H-1B regulations in the past.
Hopefully the US Attorney's understanding of H-1B isn't as weak as the press release indicates!
How much trouble are these immigration attorneys in? Recent H-1B fraud cases in Michigan and Texas have resulted in mere slaps on the wrist for those who were convicted. But this one could be more serious. Some of the participants in the fraud ring could actually get some prison time—and perhaps even be barred from practicing law. The cigar chompers at AILA could even kick Korenberg out of their old boys club, which might be the ultimate humiliation.
The difficulty with cases such as these is that federal sentencing guidelines are very complex and subject to the whims of the court. But Korenberg and Rodriguez engaged in fraud that was blatant and lucrative. A source close to the investigation explained that there is lots of evidence on tape, and there is even a photo of an undercover operative shaking hands with Rodriguez after he got an illegal visa.
Korenberg and Rodriguez will make their initial appearances in United States District Court in Los Angeles on March 29, this Thursday. They intend on taking this case to trial. It should be quite a show.
Rodriguez hired a lawyer named Errol Stambler who claims that there was "no criminal intent whatsoever". Of course, that would be the expected response of a defense lawyer. Stambler handles cases dealing with corporate fraud and money laundering, so he seems to be a perfect fit for the job.
If convicted of the charges in the indictment, Korenberg faces a maximum statutory penalty of 225 years in federal prison. Rodriguez faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. Insiders suggest that they will more likely only get three years in the pokey but even that might not happen if the courts go easy on these guys.
Philip Abramowitz, a partner in the firm who has not been charged, defended himself in the Asian Journal. [Abramowitz Speaks Out: Lawyer sheds light on cases filed vs firm Amee R. Enriquez and Momar G. Visaya, March 12th, 2007] He claimed the possibility of 225 years in prison for his partner must be "a typo because this is not some major scheme to defraud thousands of people. It's not the type of scheme." Obviously, 225 is simply a multiple of 15, but the larger legal point is that this is a major scheme to defraud the United States of America, which is not thousands of people, but (unfortunately) 300 million.
One question that never seems to be asked in these types of cases: where are the aliens who came here with fraudulent visas—why aren't they rounded up and deported?
The DOJ is using this case to demonstrate that it is protecting American workers by rooting out fraud. But the aliens who arrived under false pretenses are presumably still here taking jobs that Americans need. And nobody knows what else they may be up to—crime, spying, terrorism.
In fact, most of the aliens who came here will probably be allowed to stay. Marie Sebrechts at the USCIS announced that it would only revoke visas of aliens that were complicit. In other words, the illegals get to keep their fraudulent visas and stay in the United States unless the USCIS can prove that they were co-conspirators. The burden of proof is on our government, not the aliens who flouted our immigration system. [2 attorneys charged with work visa fraud. By Anna Gorman, LA Times March 2, 2007]
It gets worse!
About 20 aliens will get immunity and permanent resident visas for testifying against KAF. Most of them are from countries known for terrorist activity—the Philippines, Indonesia, Syria and Egypt.
Do we really want to allow these aliens into our country?
A last point: The threat of deportation and/or jail time gives these criminal aliens a huge incentive to say anything the prosecution tells them to. As Paul Craig Roberts has pointed out, it's very questionable to use witnesses who are known lawbreakers. Look at the kangaroo court that accepted the testimony of an illegal alien drug smuggler to convict border patrol agents Ramos and Compean. It would be far better if this type of deal-making would cease and some semblance of integrity could be restored to our legal system. It's just more evidence that America's immigration disaster is overwhelming our institutions.
Rob Sanchez (email him) is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization and author of the "Job Destruction Newsletter" (sign up for it here) at www.JobDestruction.com. To make a tax-deductible donation to Rob Sanchez, click here.