A Breveard County, Florida restaurant owner of the Siam Orchid Thai-Japaneses restaurant in Cocoa Beach is among a goup of people facing federal indictment alleging they oeprated a scheme to buy fake green cards for 43 illegal immigrants. The illegal immigrants promised more than $600,00 for the documents to an undercover agent. Wade Arnold reported for FLORIDA Today
A Department of Homeland Security agent posing as a corrupt official, according to the indictment, met on a regular basis between December 2011 and October 2012 with the owners of the Thai restaurants in Brevard and Indian River. Thinking the “corrupt” agent would help them if they paid a fee of up to $20,000 per green card, the restaurant owner submitted documents and completed immigration forms for the undocumented foreign nationals.
Chatchai Nakornprai, 47, and Boonting Nuampaton, 49, of Melbourne; and Sataporn Panamwan Na Ayuttaya, 44, and Sarah Tipfun, 59, of Vero Beach. were charged in the indictment. Florida Division of Corporation records show Nakornprai is an owner of Siam Orchid Thai and Japanese restaurants in Melbourne and Cocoa Beach.
Pending charges include conspiracy to commit visa fraud and bribery, with Tipfun, facing a total of 13 felony charges. The maximum penalty for a bribery conviction is 15 years in prison with a fine up to $250,000, or three times the bribe.
According to the Department of Homeland Security Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, document and benefit fraud can be elements of crimes such as human trafficking, and when organized among a group of co-conspirators, it can be a lucrative crime.
Robert Brown, from our office was identified and quoted in the Florida Today article article as an immigration attorney who has offices in Orlando and Ohio, and who retired after a 27-year career with what was then called Immigration and Naturalization Service, said one thing about this case was surprising.
“It’s fairly common for people to try and buy fake or bogus documents,” he said. “The unique part is that usually you don’t have an undercover ICE officer to catch someone in the act like that.”
He said agents generally catch fraudulent documents, such as green cards, driver’s licenses, social security cards or passports, when individuals try to use them to obtain services.
The federal indictment isays Tipfun promised to pay about $618,000 for the green cards in several meetings and that other suspects also attended. It says most of the people seeking green cards via the suspects were current or former employees, or their friends or family, who traveled from as far away as California thinking they were meeting with a corrupt federal agent.
In October, the suspects and 25 co-conspirators met with the undercover DHS agent and a Thai law enforcement officer at Tipfun’s restaurant in Vero Beach. The indictment says the officers warned the participants the activity was illegal.
Trial is planned to start in early 2013. Those who attempted to purchased the green cardsare identified as “co-conspirators” in the indictment but apparently have not been charged but may be facing removal fromthe US.