Two Santa Clara County executives charged with ‘specialty profession’ visa fraud | USAO-NDCA
SAN JOSE — Elangovan Punniakoti and Mary Christeena appeared in federal court today to face an indictment charging them with visa fraud and conspiracy to commit visa fraud, the U.S. attorney announced. Stephanie M. Hinds, US Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), San Francisco Field Office, Special Agent in Charge William Chang and Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Tatum King.
According to the indictment, Innovate Solutions, Inc. in Santa Clara County was incorporated in 2008 as an information technology services company. Punniakoti, 52, a resident of Cupertino, served as CEO of Innovate Solutions. Christeena, 47, also a Cupertino resident, served as the company’s president.
The indictment alleges that from 2010 to May 2020, Punniakoti and Christeena repeatedly submitted fraudulent H-1B visa applications for foreign workers sponsored by Innovate Solutions. H-1B visas are issued through the United States government’s H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers program. With an H-1B visa, a sponsoring employer can employ a foreign worker in the United States on a temporary, nonimmigrant basis in a “specialty occupation.” A skilled occupation requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge and requires the employee to hold a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in the relevant specialty. Each employer seeking an H-1B visa to employ a nonimmigrant alien worker is required to submit an application to the United States Department of Labor that, among other things, certifies the working conditions and describes the existence, duration, and the salary of the temporary worker. work. A subsequent request requires, among other information, the biographical data of the proposed foreign worker and the address where the proposed foreign worker will work for the sponsoring employer.
The indictment charges that from 2010 to May 2020, Punniakoti and Christeena submitted approximately 54 fraudulent H-1B visa applications for non-immigrant temporary workers sponsored by Innovate Solutions. Each application required representations made under penalty of perjury as to the name, location, terms, and existence of the sponsored nonimmigrant worker’s position. Punniakoti and Christeena submitted, or caused to be submitted, statements as part of the application process indicating that foreign workers would work off-site at specific client companies. The indictment accuses the identified client companies of never having received the proposed foreign workers or having never intended to receive these workers. The indictment also charges Punniakoti and Christeena with submitting, or causing to be submitted, statements that a foreign worker was working on an internal project for Innovate Solutions when he knew no such project existed. .
Once the applications were approved, Punniakoti and Christeena created a group of H-1B workers who were placed in positions with other employers who had actual work, not with the identified end customers. This practice has given Innovate Solutions an unfair and illegal advantage over recruitment companies.
During the period of the Punniakoti and Christeena conspiracy, the indictment alleges, the other employers paid more than $2.5 million in fees to Innovate Solutions to cover the cost of wages and salaries for H-1B workers. as well as increased profits for Innovate Solutions.
Punniakoti and Christeena made their first appearances in federal court in San Jose today before United States Magistrate Judge Virginia K. DeMarchi. A further court appearance is scheduled for July 25, 2022, before U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila, who sits in San Jose. The two accused were released.
The federal indictment charges both Punniakoti and Christeena with one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud in violation of 18 USC § 371 and six counts of visa fraud in violation of 18 USC §§ 1546(a) and 2. The maximum statutory jail term for a violation of 18 USC § 371 is 5 years in prison. The maximum statutory jail term for each violation of 18 USC §§ 1546(a) is 10 years. Each of the offending statutes carries a maximum legal fine of $250,000 or twice the gross amount of the gain or loss. However, any sentence following a conviction would only be imposed by a court after review of the US Sentencing Guidelines and the federal law governing sentencing, 18 USC § 3553.
The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. As in any criminal case, these defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in court.
Assistant United States Attorney Sarah Griswold is pursuing the case with the help of Lynette Dixon. The charge was the result of an investigation by the DSS representative with the Document and Benefits Fraud Task Force (DBFTF), overseen by Homeland Security Investigations. The DBFTF is a multi-agency task force that coordinates investigations of fraudulent immigration documents. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s National Security and Fraud Detection Office also participated in the investigation.