Noncitizen visa fraud ring victimized St. Simons Island businesses

2 companies, 9 people accused in large-scale scheme

St. Simons Island on Georgia map
St. Simons Island on Georgia map (WJXT)

A federal grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia has indicted two businesses and nine of those companies’ officers and managers 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.

Among the businesses that federal prosecutors said were exploited by this large-scale scheme were some in St. Simons Island.

According to the indictment, Regal Hospitality Solutions LLC contracted to provide hospitality-related businesses with lawful laborers to work in housekeeping, retail, and foodservice positions. To fill those positions, RHS defendants hired non-citizens who were not authorized to work in the United States. In some cases, the RHS defendants arranged for and provided housing and transportation to the workers.

“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 36-count indictment charges Regal Hospitality Solutions LLC, Educational World Inc., three residents of Lousiana, two Florida residents and others in Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and South Carolina with one count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses, including encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, transporting aliens, and visa fraud. Several of those defendants were also charged with commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.

“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 for 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.”

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. – 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.

Prosecutors said the Ed World defendants knew that those noncitizens were already present in and intended to stay in the United States for employment, not tourism.

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.