Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Four "Wise Latino" Alcala Law Firm Members Appear In Federal Court In Salt Lake City, Plead Not Guilty To Conspiracy And Visa Fraud Charges

Four of the eight members of the Alcala Law Firm indicted in a visa fraud scheme for illegal immigrants appeared in Federal court in Salt Lake City on July 29th, 2009, and pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Media stories published by the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and KSL Channel 5. This post combines pertinent information from the media sources.

The disposition of the four indictees currently in Utah:

-- James Hector Alcala, 41, charged with one count conspiracy, which carries a maximum of up to five years in prison, and 12 counts of visa fraud, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
-- Carlos Vorher, 43, charged with one count conspiracy and two counts visa fraud
-- Andres Acosta Parra, 31, charged with two counts visa fraud
-- Gustavo Ballesteros-Munoz, 45, charged with one count of visa fraud

U.S. District Magistrate Judge David Nuffer ordered the four men released on GPS ankle monitors pending resolution of the case. Nuffer ordered the men to have no contact with each other, or with potential witnesses. Alcala's wife, Janet Alcala, was exempted from that order. The men are also not allowed to travel outside of the state without prior permission and must surrender their passports. There is some concern that prosecution could be hindered by attorney-client privilege, which may protect communications and some documents involving James Alcala and his staff. A status conference is scheduled for August 7th to deal with such issues.

The disposition of the remaining indictees:

-- Carlos Enrique Gomez-Alvarez, 41, appeared in federal court in New York on July 29th, a day after being arrested. According to federal officials, Alvarez was arrested while he was in the process of taking the New York state bar exam in Buffalo. He's pleaded not guilty in New York and will be transported to Utah.
-- Daniel Trigo Villavicencio, 30, arrested July 29th in Texas.
-- Florentino Jose Ayala Villarreal, 39, currently in Mexico
-- Adriana Garza Muniz, 47, currently in Mexico.

The alleged conspiracy operated from July 2005 to June 2009 and involved the H-2B visa program, under which employers petition for permits that allow foreign nationals to work temporarily in the United States. The indictment claims the defendants gave employers and their employees instructions on how to use the H-2B program, even if the workers were living in the United States illegally and already working for the company. Sometimes, the workers allegedly were told to go back to Mexico and not tell U.S. consular personnel who interviewed them that they had been in the United States recently. In addition, the law firm employees encouraged companies -- which paid thousands of dollars for legal help -- to apply for more visas than needed so they could illegally "swap" foreign-national workers among employers, according to the indictment.

Read the 31-page indictment HERE in PDF format (may be quite slow to load - be patient).

The investigation itself began in February 2008 after the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security received a tip about the law firm. Ed Moreno, the agency's assistant director for domestic operations, said the alleged crimes are "particularly reprehensible" because they involve a law firm and former federal employees: a former border agent and a former consulate visa assistant. U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman said some companies who hired the law firm believed they were given correct legal advice. Some, though, might have seen red flags, such as being asked to fabricate or fudge information.

The investigation is continuing with interviews of the employer-clients and visa recipients. Utah State Bar officials have initiated disciplinary proceedings against Alcala in 3rd District Court. The case is pending.

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