An attorney and two business associates have been arrested on suspicion of selling dozens of fake employment visas and then laundering the profits by buying vacant burial plots, authorities said.
Kelly Einstein Darwin Giles, 46, owner of a West Covina law practice, was taken into custody Thursday by customs agents at Los Angeles International Airport as he returned from a trip, authorities said.
His two business associates, Joseph Wai-man Wu, 50, and his wife, May Yin-man Wu, 43, were arrested earlier in the day.
All three were charged with visa fraud. Their arrests culminated a 2 1/2 -year investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The trio are accused of setting up nearly a dozen fake companies to file fraudulent employment visa applications, many of them for H-1B visas, which are reserved for foreign workers with specialized skills, authorities said.
The immigrants named in the applications never worked for the defendants or the fictitious companies.
The defendants allegedly charged $6,000 to $50,000 to file fraudulent visa petitions on behalf of applicants, authorities said. Investigators have identified about 100 foreign nationals who had visa petitions filed on their behalf.
Working with authorities, one of the applicants recorded conversations with Giles and Joseph Wu, officials said. In one conversation, Giles encourages the cooperating witness to lie to investigators, according to an affidavit in the case.
Customs agents searched Giles' law office and seized immigration applications and documents, financial records and computer equipment, authorities said.
They also seized 30 vacant burial plots and 20 blank grave monuments at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier that allegedly were purchased with proceeds from the visa scheme.
Cemetery plots are a novel investment because they appreciate at a rate of up to 10% a year and are less susceptible to economic downturns, authorities said.
"It's unique in the sense that we haven't run into this before that an individual seeking to hide proceeds goes out and purchases cemetery plots," said Jorge Guzman, Immigration and Customs Enforcement assistant special agent in charge. "There are always new ways in which criminals will try and hide money, but this is by far one of the most unique."
If the burial plots are forfeited to the government, they will be sold at auction, authorities said.