United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced that a federal grand jury returned an indictment January 16, 2012 charging Sippy Lal, 58, Mamta Sharma, 34, and Rani Rachana Singh-Lal, 27, all of Sacramento, with conspiring to induce aliens to enter and reside in the United States in violation of law. The indictment alleges that the defendants were involved in an elaborate immigration fraud scheme involving foreign nationals from India who paid to enter into sham engagements or marriages with locally recruited U.S. citizens in an effort to legalize their immigration status.
Lal, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Fijian descent, was arrested on January 10, 2012, when agents executed a search warrant at his residence in Sacramento. He was released upon posting a $100,000 bond. Sharma, who is married to Lal and is of Indian descent, is not a legal resident of the United States. She was also arrested and remains in custody. An arrest warrant is being sought for Singh-Lal.
The citizens recruited by Lal were paid thousands of dollars to fly to India, meet and take pictures with a purported spouse, and sometimes enter into actual marriages (albeit often using fake names). Thereafter, fraudulent petitions were filed with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service in the United States seeking visas allowing the Indian citizens to enter and reside within the United States. On at least one occasion, after an alien entered on a fraudulent fiancé visa procured through the scheme, Lal paid a U.S. Citizen to further participate by entering into a sham marriage with the alien in Sacramento. Sharma is alleged to have used various aliases to pose as a United States Citizen in connection with five different petitions filed since 2008, despite the fact that she is not a U.S. citizen and despite the fact that she was married to Lal throughout that time period. Similarly, defendant Singh-Lal is alleged to have posed as the petitioner with respect to three different petitions, all filed with slight variations on her true name. According to the affidavit filed in the case, law enforcement has gathered evidence indicating that well over 50 fraudulent visa petitions are associated with Lal and his co-conspirators.
U.S. Attorney Wagner said: “This indictment describes a business model in which the defendants profited by enlisting U.S. citizens to engage in repeated acts of fraud aimed at facilitating the illegal entry of foreign nationals into the United States. The family visa provisions are intended to promote family unity and accommodate marriages involving foreign nationals. We cannot permit those provisions to be cynically abused for personal profit. As this indictment and others recently brought by this office attest, we are committed to prosecuting those — aliens and U.S. citizens alike — who try to profit from circumventing our immigration laws through fraud and deceit.”
“Hollywood may portray marriage fraud as a romantic farce, but this is a serious crime with serious implications,” said Dan Lane, assistant special agent in charge for ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Sacramento. “Immigration benefit fraud schemes undermine the integrity of our nation’s legal immigration system, pose a security vulnerability and potentially rob deserving immigrants of benefits they rightfully deserve. The exploitation of our proud legal immigration tradition for profit is morally repugnant and Homeland Security Investigations will move aggressively against those who engage in such criminal conduct.”
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services – Fraud Detection and National Security Unit, and the California Department of Justice – Bureau of Investigation and Intelligence. Assistant United States Attorneys Philip Ferrari and Michele Beckwith are prosecuting the case.
A separate prosecution was brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office six months ago involving an alleged marriage fraud ring similar to the one indicted today. Fourteen defendants were charged in that case, which involves alleged sham marriages arranged for profit between U.S. citizens and foreign nationals from Russia and Eastern Europe. To date, two defendants, Richard Vargas, 36, of Sacramento, and Olga Nekrasova, 26, of San Francisco, have pleaded guilty to felony charges in that case.
The maximum statutory penalty for conspiring to induce aliens to enter the United States is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sharma is also charged separately with aiding and abetting visa fraud, an offense which carries the same penalty. The actual sentences for all offenses will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.