‘All’ immigration ‘cheaters’ to face prosecution. Marriage, fraud lawyers targeted


‘All’ immigration ‘cheaters’ to face prosecution. Marriage, fraud lawyers targeted

By Paul Bedard

The agency in charge of granting citizenship and visas to immigrants is tired of getting duped by scammers and fraud lawyers and its new boss plans to fight back.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told Secrets that one of his top priorities will be to sniff out fraud among those trying to win citizenship, and take them to court.

“Anybody who lies to us about anything shouldn’t get whatever it is that they are asking for. And to me that’s pretty commonsensical,” he said.

Besides preserving citizenship for those who deserve or earn it, Cuccinelli said that the army of investigators and other officials at USCIS must be respected and not constantly lied to.

“We are taking steps to address all of these things ... I think to the great enthusiasm to the people here in the agency,” he said, adding, “I think we are going to put ourselves in a position to prosecute virtually all of these. And that’s very unique .”


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Officials said that some of those seeking visas and citizenship, and even lawyers representing them, have engaged in rampant fraud.

One typical example is marriage fraud.

“Marriage fraud ... is a high-level frustration, one for our folks who respect their own work. And when they see cheaters they want that dealt with. And it doesn’t respect their work and their effort and their commitment to making these legal processes legitimate if you just let the cheaters go,” said Cuccinelli.

“The reason marriage fraud is so important is because it is associated with citizenship, which is the most valuable thing that we offer here. Everything that we offer here is a privilege, not a right. No non-American has a right to anything that comes through USCIS,” he added.

And in several cases, lawyers for immigrants lie about their clients to get visas — and sometimes the immigrants don’t know their lawyer is committing fraud.

Just last month, for example, a Brooklyn man was charged with submitting over 1,800 fraudulent immigration applications on behalf of 1,000 migrants. In them, he claimed that the women were abuse victims and should get a green card to remain in the United States. But the Justice Department determined that the women were not abused, and never claimed to be.

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The new efforts to stop fraud are part of a broader administration campaign to limit illegal immigration and close loopholes in the system.

Among groups advocating for tighter laws, Cuccinelli’s effort is winning raves.

"Previous administrations have tolerated far too much fraud in our immigration system, instead emphasizing swift approvals. This is unfair to the legitimate applicants, and presents a security risk,” said Jessica M. Vaughan, the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies.

“His commitment to imposing more consequences on people who commit fraud will be a big help in reducing it, and that will help unclog the system for everyone,” she added.

Cuccinelli was blunt in his approach to going after fraudulent claims for citizenship, visas, and green cards.

“We want to get to the point of going after every single one of them. And I hope that relatively soon we will be doing that,” he said.

“The burden is on immigrants coming to us to justify whatever they want from us,” he said.


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Quiros to Pay $84 Million for EB-5 Investment Fraud

Monday, February 5, 2018

On February 2, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced an $84 million settlement ($81.4 million in disgorgement, $2.5 million in prejudgment interest, and a $1 million civil penalty) with Jay Peak ski resort owner Ariel Quiros. The SEC brought charges against Quiros in early 2016 after discovering his nearly decade-long scheme perpetrated through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program (EB-5 Program). The EB-5 Program offers foreign investors the chance to earn permanent residence in the U.S. if they make an investment of $1 million or $500,000 in U.S. project that creates or preserves at least 10 jobs.

Quiros and William Stenger, the president and CEO of Jay Peak (who has already agreed to cooperate with the SEC), used the EB-5 program to raise more than $350 million from 700 foreign investors for the construction of Jay Peak ski resort in Vermont. Unfortunately for the investors, a majority of their money was never used to construct the ski resort or create jobs. According to the SEC’s complaint, Quiros and Stenger misused more than $150 million of the foreign investors’ money in a “Ponzi-like fashion” to cover losses in unrelated projects. In addition, Quiros used more than $50 million of the investors’ money as his own personal piggy bank, which included the purchase of a luxury condominium, payment of his income taxes, and the acquisition of an unrelated resort.

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This $84 million settlement represents only one of the many lawsuits initiated as a result of the fraudulent EB-5 project. In another suit, Jay Peak’s EB-5 investors filed a class-action lawsuit against Raymond James, which held the investors’ funds, and its former branch manager, Joel Burstein, for facilitating the scheme. According to court documents, Raymond James and Burstein aided and abetted the fraud by, among other things, providing millions of dollars in loans to Quiros that were collateralized with the EB-5 investors’ funds, even though they knew that the funds belonged to the investors. In April 2017, Raymond James agreed to a record-setting EB-5 settlement of $150 million with the investors. Citibank also agreed to a $13.3 million settlement for extending a $15 million personal line of credit to Quiros, which was also secured by using investors’ funds as collateral.

In total, the fraudulent EB-5 project and the subsequent litigation lasted more than a decade. In recent years, the SEC has utilized whistleblowers to detect and halt ongoing EB-5 investment fraud well before it grows to Jay Peak’s magnitude. In exchange for information about EB-5 fraud (or any other securities law violation), the SEC offers monetary awards to whistleblowers under its SEC Whistleblower-Reward Program. The SEC has already issued a $14.7 million SEC whistleblower award to a whistleblower who reported EB-5 investment fraud (see details below).

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