Update July 29th: Four of the indictees appear in court and are formally charged. Updated post HERE.
On Tuesday July 28th, 2009, after an 18-month investigation, Federal prosecutors announced their indictment of a Hispanic Salt Lake City attorney and seven of his Hispanic employees of falsifying paperwork to help Utah employers get work visas for illegal immigrants. Stories published by the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, KSTU Channel 13, and KSL Channel 5.
According to the indictment, the Alcala Law Firm and its employees helped 10 companies in Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties hire ineligible foreign workers. The companies -- which may not have known they were getting bad legal advice -- included landscaping, construction, painting, roofing, steel and property-maintenance businesses. The individuals indicted are charged with various counts of conspiracy, visa fraud and encouraging or inducing illegal aliens to reside in the United States illegally. KSL news video embedded below:
The eight individuals indicted:
-- James Alcala, owner of the Alcala Law Firm, from Salt Lake City
-- Carlos Manuel Vorher, former Border Patrol agent and firm paralegal, Salt Lake City
-- Andres Lorenzo Acosta-Parra, former visa assistant at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, currently from Salt Lake City
-- Carlos Enrique Gomez-Alvarez, in-house counsel for the firm, listed as a resident of Houston (currently in Federal custody in New York)
-- Daniel Trigo Villavicencio, in-house counsel for the firm, Orem
-- Gustavo Ballesteros-Munoz, accountant for the firm, West Jordan
-- Florentino Jose Ayala Villarreal, a firm employee, Mexico
-- Olga Adriana Garza Muniz, a firm employee, Mexico
In addition, Westside Property Management is named, since it lists Alcala's wife, Janet, as its managing member.
Read the 31-page indictment HERE in PDF format (may be quite slow to load - be patient). The specific charges as follows (not grouped by individual):
-- Count 1: Conspiracy to Commit Alien Smuggling and Visa Fraud.
-- Counts 2-10: Visa Fraud
-- Counts 11-15: Encouraging of Inducing Illegal Aliens to Reside in the United States Unlawfully
-- Counts 16-17: Visa Fraud
Prosecutors are also seeking forfeiture of nine different properties in Salt Lake City used in the operation, as well as any other applicable personal property which were proceeds from the operation owned by the accused.
The ten businesses who sought advice from the law firm were not identified by name, but simply given a source number and identified by specialty. Note that neither these businesses nor their owners/employees have been indicted.
-- Source 1: Landscaping company in Utah County
-- Source 2: Construction company in Salt Lake County
-- Source 3: Landscaping company in Salt Lake County
-- Source 4: Painting company in Salt Lake County
-- Source 5: Another landscaping company in Utah County
-- Source 6: Steel company in Utah County
-- Source 7: Roofing and general construction company in Salt Lake County
-- Source 8: Roofing company in Salt Lake County
-- Source 9: Property maintenance company in Salt Lake County
-- Source 10: Security system company in Davis County. This company is specifically identified as having worked with Federal agents in an undercover capacity.
The alleged conspiracy involved the H-2B visa program, under which employers petition immigration authorities for permits that allow foreign nationals to work temporarily in the United States, if they can demonstrate a need for these workers. Employers must demonstrate there are not enough U.S. citizens who are willing and qualified to fill vacant positions. There is a limit of 66,000 H-2B visas issued each year, allowing unskilled laborers to stay a maximum of 10 months. According to the indictment, the conspiracy operated from July 2005 to June 2009, and as many as 5,000 fraudulent visas may have been issued. More information about the H-2B visa program is available HERE.
Paul Maldonado, deputy special agent in charge with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says, "During the investigation, we learned that Mr. Alcala often sought to reassure his clients that his actions were above board by reminding them that his legal team included a former border patrol agent."
Apparently the indictment came as no surprise to the community of people who work as advocates for Utah's immigrant population. Sister Sharlet Wagner, director of the immigration department at Salt Lake's Holy Cross Ministries, said her office had contact with several people over the past couple of years who were given "poor" legal advice by James Alcala and his law firm.
"We've heard similar stories from people who have gone to Mr. Alcala for counsel and end up being victims," Wagner said. "What I've seen from more than one client is that they see him, are told they can get visas, then directed to go to Mexico. … Once they're there, someone else tells them they will have to lie to get a visa to get back in the country."