BELLEVUE, WA–The CEO of two Bellevue, Washington information-technology firms was arrested on Tuesday at Sea-Tac Airport on a charge relating to a multi-year visa-fraud scheme, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes.
Pradyumna Kumar Samal, 49, a citizen of India, was taken into custody as he arrived from an international flight. The criminal complaint describing the visa-fraud scheme was filed under seal in April 2018, soon after Samal fled the United States while the investigation was ongoing. Samal remained out of the country until Tuesday when he was arrested by law enforcement.
“Samal’s lawyer, Diane Butler at Davis Wright Tremaine, disputed the agency’s claims. Butler said companies’ project needs often change between the time an H-1B application is filed and when the worker starts, so they may end up working on a different project than what the company originally intended,” reported Seattle Times.
Butler was quoted by the newspaper saying that the investigation and charges against Samal “reflect the current hostility toward business immigration in a zero tolerance environment. Companies like his have helped keep the economy vibrant by providing H-1B tech workers for short-term projects.”
Seattle Times said Divensi filed 390 applications for H-1B visas in 2016. That was the fifth-highest application tally in Washington state, ranking it behind Microsoft, Amazon and outsourcing companies Infosys and HCL America. On its website, Divensi lists many big tech companies as customers, including Microsoft, Amazon and Tableau.
The criminal complaint describes how two companies incorporated by Samal in 2010 and 2011, engaged in a scheme sometimes referred to as a “bench-and-switch” scheme, to exploit foreign-national workers, compete unlawfully in the market, and defraud the U.S. government.
According to the investigation that began in 2015, Samal served as the Chief Executive Officer of ‘Divensi’ and ‘Azimetry.’ Both companies were in the business of providing information-technology workers, such as Software Development Engineers, to major corporate clients.
The complaint alleges that Samal submitted, and directed his employees to submit, forged and false application materials to the United States government, making it appear as if two corporate clients already had agreed to use several foreign-national employees named in the applications. In fact, neither client had agreed to do so. The forged documents included forged letters and fraudulent statements of work, which appeared as if they had been signed by senior executives at the two clients, according to Justice Department statement. After USCIS relied on the false representations and approved the applications, Samal’s companies “benched” the foreign nationals – i.e., the companies left those foreign nationals unpaid – until and unless they were able to place those employees at actual end clients.
Nearly 200 workers may have been brought in under the phony applications. The employees were forced to pay Samal’s companies a partially-refundable “security deposit” of as much as $5,000 for the visa filings, regardless of whether they were assigned to any projects that provided them with income.
Visa Fraud is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The charges contained in the complaint are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case is being investigated by the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Siddharth Velamoor.