A California immigration lawyer was recently sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and ordered to pay back taxes for her participation in an extensive and highly profitable visa fraud scheme. The scheme involved the preparation and filing of hundreds of fraudulent work visa applications and failure to pay income tax over a 17 year period. Mihae Park, a 54 year old attorney practicing in Laguna Beach, is due to return to court in the coming month to learn the amount of restitution she will be required to pay.
From 2000 to 2017, Park prepared and filed more than 200 petitions for permanent (green card) and temporary work visas premised on job offers and corporate entities that were pure fiction.
According to conviction records, Park’s scheme included the collection of hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign nationals seeking to enter or remain in the U.S. In return, Park prepared and submitted visa filings falsely claiming the named foreign nationals would be working in high skilled or executive jobs and for various companies. It turns out the petitioning companies, the company rosters and underlying job descriptions were all bogus, and concocted specially to facilitate an immigration benefit such as a temporary visa or green card. To further the veneer of legitimacy for the petitioning companies, the names of individuals on the workforce were all real persons, although they had already retired, or even deceased. Additionally, Park presented false income tax returns for each of the petitioning organizations so as to give immigration authorities the impression of their solvency and ability to cover the wage being offered the foreign worker under petition.
In other instances, Park used a legitimate company’s information without their knowledge in preparing a petition to facilitate visa issuance for various foreign workers. The company at issue was a legitimate Orange County educational organization and the petitions filed on their behalf – unbeknownst to the company’s officials – were to lead to the employment of one foreign worker as a Chinese language instructor and the other as a music teacher. Importantly, the company at issue in reality did not even offer classes in either the Chinese language or music in the first place.
According to prosecutor filings – “(t)he crux of [Park’s] fraud was that she submitted petitions on behalf of entities without their knowledge, for the benefit of individuals who were not their employees, and disclosed none of that to USCIS”.
As part of her plea agreement Park admitted that between 2009 and 2014, Park filed fraudulent tax returns wherein she failed to disclose income of more than $760,000. As part of her sentence, Park must also pay more than $250,000 in back taxes. Further, Park’s 2012 Ferrari and 2015 Volkswagen GTI were seized as they were alleged to have been purchased by Park with proceeds of her illegal scheme.
One could imagine that a significant percentage if not most of the foreign nationals providing funds to Park to facilitate their immigration benefit expected a legitimate job offer and process, and only later learned they had been scammed. Others may very well have known what they were getting into, and figured they’d take their chances. Either way, individual foreign workers benefiting from the scheme may very well be facing removal from the U.S. given the fraud at the root of their immigration process. Either way, immigration law consumers must be diligent and realistic in assessing the legitimacy of services being offered by immigration counsel, especially if their counsel is the one arranging the underlying job offer and prospective employment relationship.