A Romantic Start that Turned into a $20 Million H-1B Fraud Case

By David North on May 4, 2016

The feds charge that $20 million was obtained fraudulently in an immigration scheme that involved hundreds of Asians, and that part of the scam involved a geographic area that our government has ruled to be economically depressed.

Sounds like another EB-5 scandal, right?

Wrong! Most of the money, according to an indictment in the Eastern District of Virginia, came out of the H-1B program, with lesser sums being obtained from Small Business Administration benefits.

The whole thing started out on what I — if not the feds — regard as a romantic moment.

Reading between the lines of one of those stolid, just-the-facts-ma'am indictments, we find that the principal conspirator, Raju Kosuri, organized in 2000 what sounds like a rent-a-programmer corporation, EcomNets, Inc., which either had then, or secured later, a tenuous tie to Danville, Va., a tired old factory town that was losing its furniture manufacturing business. (A reporter for the local paper, the Register-Bee, told me Monday that Kosuri's firm maintained a very small operation in Danville, though it had proclaimed much larger ones in the past.)

Back to the romance: In 2001, Kosuri used his new corporation to file an H-1B petition for Smriti Jharia to work for the firm as an H-1B. She was either then married to, or later became married to, Kosuri — the indictment is not helpful in this area. Kosuri, at the time of the indictment, is a lawful permanent alien, but probably did not have that status in 2001 when he used H-1B to bring his bride to this country. Had he had a green card in 2001 it would have been far easier, faster, and cheaper to cause her migration as a spouse. (The indictment can be seen in the PACER system of electronic court documents as case 1:16-cr-00043-LMB.)

Perhaps operating on the well-known premise that a couple that preys together, stays together, the two apparently remain married to this date, and both were indicted together, as were four others.

This was no one-off offense, like a solitary bank robbery. This was crime on a massive, industrial, assembly-line scale. There are, in this indictment:

  • Six defendants,
  • Seven different federal crimes charged,
  • 27 counts in the indictment, involving
  • 800 illegal migrants, resulting in
  • $20 million in ill-gotten gains to be forfeited.

The scale is breathtaking, and the feds' ignorance of it for years is as if the Confederacy had not noticed Sherman's march to the sea.

The seven crimes are: visa fraud per se, conspiracy to commit visa fraud, aggravated identity theft, international money laundering, making false statements to the Small Business Administration per se, conspiracy to make such false statements, and unlawful procurement of naturalization.

The indictment closes with a list of "assets [that] are proceeds of the offenses charged here or property involved in the offenses charged herein and are therefore subject to forfeiture."

The list includes a 2010 Mercedes 400S sedan, three pieces of real estate, and 29 bank accounts held by the defendants and companies that they control. The total value of all this swag is noted as $20.7 million, but there are no statements about the size of each individual asset.

Amongst all this immigration-related financial fraud there are some purely immigration matters. Kosuri's wife and another defendant, Sanchita Bhattacharya, are both charged with unlawful procurement of naturalization; if they are convicted of these charges they would cease to be citizens and would be subject to possible deportation. Kosuri's brother-in-law, Vikrant Jharia (brother to Smriti), who joined his sister in Virginia in an act of chain migration, may also be illegally in this country (the indictment is often vague about such things); he certainly is charged with committing immigration fraud regarding other aliens.

Some of the defendants are also charged with fraud in connection with one of the many programs operated by the Small Business Administration. SBA seeks to bring more federal money into Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZones), which is a term for the downtowns of Rust Belt cities, which most certainly covers places like Danville. That city, with a population of about 42,000 and declining, has a median household income of $30,188, less than half the average for the state of Virginia.

Certain businesses in HUBZones get breaks when they bid on federal contracts or seek loans from banks. Kosuri made successful, but fraudulent, applications for HUBZone benefits (35 percent of his workers, for instance, were not employed in a HUBZone as they were supposed to be — they were scattered around the country while Kosuri and his wife lived and worked in an affluent part of Northern Virginia, Loudoun County).

The indictment notes two benefits that Kosuri secured from the HUBZone identification: an SBA-guaranteed loan of $150,000 and federal contracts (with unnamed agencies) for at least $47,472.

Mysteries Within the Indictment. This leads to one of the multitudinous mysteries within the indictment. If Kosuri and his wife were securing funding from 800 illegal aliens (posing as H-1B workers) and if they had secured over $20 million in loot, why would they bother defrauding SBA of such small sums? In one case they applied for an SBA benefit, were rejected, applied again, were rejected again, and then apparently got what they wanted on the third attempt (once again, the indictment does not say so, but that sequence is implied.)

Similarly, they seemed to have only one, six-year-old vehicle worth seizing, the Mercedes, and Loudoun County (Va.) property appraisals show their home as being worth a bit over $800,000, fairly typical of the Ashburn area where they lived. Neither of these are signs of real affluence.

These indicators suggest one of two things: 1) they were engaged in a manic effort to squeeze as much money as possible out of the system, without spending too much of it; or 2) they were not managing their illicit house of cards very competently. I suspect some of both, but the indictment sheds no light on either.

A Critique. If everything upright looks like a nail to a hammer, then long written documents can look like a book to be reviewed by me (my late father did this for the Chicago Daily News and the New York World-Telegram and Sun).

While I am no lawyer, I suspect the many failings of the indictment as a written document will not endanger the prosecutor's task — it is full of specific allegations of wrong-doing. But as a public document regarding a massive fraud of a public program, it is lackluster to say the least.

The first of the three major problems with the indictment is the way it completely ignores the fact that the conspirators were bringing 800 illegal aliens to this country, thus denying jobs to 800 people who are here legally. And was there an attempt within the grand jury to at least list these fellow conspirators, or to mention this gaping hole in our immigration system?

The chances are that Homeland Security will not make any effort to deport the 800, but may simply deny citizenship to some of those who apply for it.

Second, there is only the slightest mention that defendants, as employers, were engaged in racial discrimination in their employment practices, hiring virtually nothing but Indians in their schemes. (On the other hand, the defendants were, as earlier migrants often do, grievously exploiting this same group of their countrymen.)

Third, there is absolutely no detail on the bridge between the dispensation of illicit immigration benefits to 800 aliens, and the $20.7 million figure. (There is a passing reference to the lack of W-2s.) Presumably most, if not all, of this money was extracted from the silent 800. There should have been room in a 26-page indictment for a couple of paragraphs about the various techniques presumably used to extract money from these illegal aliens.

At a lower level of concern, I noted that there are two defendants named Jhaira: Smriti, the spouse of Kosuri, and her brother, Vikrant. The two are always called by their last name only, and it is hard to tell sometimes which is which. Further, no one seems to have used spell check — the main firm in the conspiracy is EcomNets, Inc., but at least once it appears as EconNets.

Trivia. In this case, as in some others, there are non-substantive elements of possible interest. For example, if this case were to reach the Supreme Court, which is unlikely, Justice Sonia Sotomayor might have to recuse herself, as she presided (according to the society pages of the New York Times) at the wedding of the Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in the case, Paul K. Nitze. That Nitze, in turn, is the grandson of the late Paul H. Nitze, who was Secretary of the Navy during the Kennedy years.

Additionally, Mr. and Mrs. Kosuri are not the only ones who have fled Danville. That was the location of the last meeting of the Cabinet of the Confederacy, after which all concerned, including Jefferson Davis, scattered, seeking safety after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Other southern cities, incidentally, claim that the last meeting took place in their city.