A Pennsylvania staffing company gamed the nation's visa program by obtaining hundreds of work visas under names culled from a Mexican phonebook and supplying the paperwork to illegal immigrants placed in landscaping and other seasonal jobs, authorities said Monday.
"They were almost like a shadow government, because they procured all these visas, and they were the ones able to control who's getting them," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin R. Brenner told The Associated Press.
International Personnel Resources Inc. had dozens of clients, many of them landscapers, builders and golf courses in the mid-Atlantic.
In some cases, undocumented workers were sent home and given stockpiled visas to re-enter the country and return to their jobs, authorities said. International Personnel Resources would coach them to tell immigration officials they had never been in the country illegally, according to the 11-count federal information.
The workers came from Mexico and Central and South America. International Personnel kept a Mexican phonebook at its office in West Chester, about 30 miles from Philadelphia, and used it to choose names for visa applications, prosecutors said. It accumulated hundreds of the visas for arriving workers from 2003 to 2008, the government said.
H-2B visas are designed for companies that cannot find Americans willing to work as temporary seasonal laborers. Given the nation's cap on H-2B visas, the scheme left fewer available for companies trying to bring in workers lawfully, prosecutors said.
The defendants are owner and President Michael T. Glah, 48, of West Chester; Vice President Theresa M. Klish, 50, of West Chester; and office managers Emily V. Ford, 29, of West Chester, and Mary H. Gillin, 60, of Downingtown.
Glah had been discussing the case with prosecutors for more than a year and knew the charges were imminent, defense lawyer Robert J. Donatoni said. He noted that the filing of an information suggests a likely guilty plea, but otherwise declined to comment.
The other lawyers did not immediately return phone messages. The company's phone has been disconnected.
Prosecutors believe that at least some of the client companies were aware of the scheme. None has been charged, but the investigation was continuing, Brenner said.
The government is seeking to have the company forfeit $1 million.