Two local immigration attorneys have been charged with fraud after allegedly filing false employment visa applications for 14 foreign nationals working for their firm, according to a federal grand jury indictment released Thursday.
The lawyers, of ASK Law Group in Sherman Oaks, filed the fraudulent applications and paid their employees in cash while awaiting approval for the visas, according to the indictment. Investigators believe the attorneys also filed false visa applications on behalf of hundreds of other foreigners looking for work at other companies.
"This is the largest immigration fraud probe ever mounted against a Los Angeles-area law firm," said Jennifer Silliman, deputy special agent in charge of the local office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The indictment charges Daniel Korenberg, a senior partner at the law firm, and Steven James Rodriguez, a senior associate, with visa fraud and conspiracy to commit visa fraud. Korenberg faces a possible sentence of 225 years in federal prison. Rodriguez faces up to 15 years in prison.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 16, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Visa fraud: A story in the March 2 California section about two attorneys charged with visa fraud said that to obtain an H-1B visa for a foreign worker, a company must prove it cannot find a qualified U.S. employee to fill the specific job. There is no such requirement, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Another partner in the firm, Philip Abramowitz, 53, has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy and visa fraud.
The indictment accused the men of committing fraud between 2000 and 2003.
To obtain an employment visa for a foreign worker, a company must prove it cannot find a qualified U.S. employee to fill a specific job. The H-1B visas are limited to foreign workers with at least a bachelor's degree. Firms must pay foreign workers the prevailing wage.
Investigators said Korenberg, 57, and Rodriguez, 40, wrote false job titles and salaries on the visa applications, citing jobs that didn't exist. They also allegedly lied about the foreigners' work experience.
The fake job titles included accountant, human resources specialist and systems analyst/programmer. The employees were actually doing secretarial work, investigators said.
Several were here on visitors' visas, which did not allow them to work, agents said.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services plans to review all the visa applications that are suspect, said spokeswoman Marie Sebrechts. If applicants were complicit in any fraud, their visas could be revoked, she said.
The ASK Law Group is based in Sherman Oaks, but has offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Las Vegas. According to the firm's website, lawyers provide services to individuals, small businesses and large corporations.
Because the defendants are attorneys, Silliman said, they know how to work the system and get around loopholes.
"It's always disturbing when attorneys manipulate the system for financial gain," said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.
Korenberg, Abramowitz and Rodriguez did not return calls for comment. Korenberg and Rodriguez are scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on March 29.
The firm had a decent reputation, so the charges were shocking, said John Ayala, vice chairman of the Southern California chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Assn.
"We hope the allegations are not true," Ayala said. "If they are found true, I think it's an aberration. It doesn't reflect the immigration bar of Southern California."