That’s No Way to Treat a Guest

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The United States relies upon foreign laborers to harvest many of the country’s crops. The H-2A visa program helps agricultural employers fill seasonal jobs with foreign guest workers to facilitate the process. Unfortunately, an Ohio business woman abused the program and the foreign workers she brought over from the Dominican Republic. (Instead of giving them a chance at a better life, she made the foreign guests pay fees that the employer was supposed to cover or she sent them back to their home country. That is certainly no way to treat a guest.)

A Star Tribune article states that this case is the first criminal prosecution of a work-visa fraud since a law change occurred in 2009 requiring employers to certify they would not charge foreign workers any fees. The master mind of the scheme was a woman who originally brought over workers from the Dominican Republic to help her run her lawn management company in Ohio. She set up an unregistered business through which a co-conspirator recruited workers from the country to fill positions at other businesses and farms located in Kentucky, Florida, Wisconsin, Missouri and North Dakota.

The H-2A visa program requires employers to pay housing and travel expenses from the worker’s country, but this particular business did not. When recruiting employers, the woman falsely claimed that a church or a charity would pay for the workers’ travel expenses, when in fact she made them cover their own travel expenses. She also charged the workers recruitment fees between $420 and $2,385 and an additional fee of $375 that was split between the woman and her co-conspirator. (If the workers did not pay the fees, they were not allowed to come back for the next growing season.)

A vegetable farmer and fellow co-conspirator also participated in the fraudulent scheme. He started out with four foreign workers and grew to as many as 68 four years later. (The vegetable farmer collected about $90,000 in kickbacks from his foreign workers.)

In an attempt to keep the foreign workers from revealing the scheme to Department of Labor investigators, the woman tried to head them off at the pass by using a list of workers labeled ”B” for bad (if she thought they had talked to investigators)or ”G” for good to decide who was allowed to stay in the country and who was sent back home. (Sounds like she had a list and she was checking it twice, but she was no Santa. This fraudster was definitely naughty.)

Out of the three co-defendants in this case, the woman was the only one to go to trial and it only took four hours to convict the 68-year-old mastermind. The other two men cooperated with investigators. The vegetable farmer agreed to set aside $772,583 for a restitution trust fund. He also agreed to have his farm independently monitored to ensure H-2A visa compliance.

While this article states that this woman’s original intent was to bring impoverished foreign workers to the U.S. to improve their lives, she ultimately failed. For that, she gets an ‘F’. While she is fortunate to not be sent out of the country for her illegal acts, the justice system has labeled her ‘B’ for bad and will most likely make an example of her when it’s time to be sentenced for her crime.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on an article published by the Star Tribune entitled, ”Illegal kickbacks for foreign farm workers in Minnesota bring a federal fraud conviction,” published on August 9, 2016.

In the nation’s first criminal prosecution of work-visa fraud, an Ohio woman has been convicted in a conspiracy that required foreign laborers at a Minnesota farm to pay illegal fees and kickbacks.

A federal jury in Minneapolis took less than four hours Monday to convict Sandra Lee Bart, 68, of Seven Hills, Ohio, after a trial that began Aug. 1.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.