California woman charged in work visa fraud case
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The owner of a Los Angeles employment agency was indicted Thursday on immigration fraud charges that allege she filed more than 100 false work visa petitions on behalf of illegal immigrants who wanted to remain in the United States.
Lilia Tabafunda, 57, was charged with nine counts of visa fraud and one count of perjury. She was arrested Oct. 15 as she tried to board a cruise ship headed for Mexico. If convicted, she faces up to 95 years in prison.
Tabafunda claimed in petitions submitted to government officials that her clients were being sought for positions by such organizations as the Boy Scouts of America and St. Jude’s Research Hospital, authorities said. Among the jobs listed on the fraudulent employment visa petitions were budget analysts, clinical research specialists and health educators.
She charged her clients, most of whom are from the Philippines and entered the U.S. on tourist visas, between $2,500 and $10,000 to file the petitions, according to court documents.
“Visa fraud crimes often involve the unwitting and the desperate,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. “Tabafunda exploited the goodwill of these groups for personal gain, shamelessly seeking to compromise the integrity of our naturalization system along the way.”
Work visas are usually issued when a U.S. business needs someone to fill a specific job and isn’t able to find a qualified employee domestically. The business can file a petition to allow a particular immigrant, who is qualified to fill the job, to enter the U.S. to work for the business.
An email message left for Tabafunda’s attorney, Roman Mosqueda, was not immediately returned Thursday. She posted $50,000 bond and is scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 13.