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Firms Face Visa Fraud Charges

Federal prosecutors say they fraudulently used a visa program to reduce skilled labor costs.

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Federal prosecutors in New Jersey said Monday the part-owner of two information technology firms and an employee fraudulently used a visa program to reduce skilled labor costs.

Prosecutors filed conspiracy charges against Sowrabh Sharma, of New York; his two firms, Jersey City-based SCM Data and MMC Systems, of Ashburn, Virginia; and Shikha Mohta, a Jersey City man who is head of finance for both companies.

Sharma was arrested Monday and was scheduled to make his initial court appearance later in the day. It's not known if he has an attorney who could comment on the accusations.

Mohta was arrested in May 2015 and remains free on a $100,000 bond.

In a statement, prosecutors said the companies offered consultants to clients in need of IT support. The firms recruited foreign nationals, often student visa holders or recent college graduates, and sponsored them for H-1B visas.

The H-1B program allows businesses in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers with specialized or technical expertise in a particular field, such as accounting, engineering or computer science.

The defendants and other conspirators recruited foreign workers with purported IT expertise who sought work in the United States, prosecutors said. The conspirators then sponsored the foreign workers' H-1B visas with the stated purpose of working for Sharma's two companies.

Prosecutors said the conspirators falsely represented that the foreign workers had full-time positions and were paid an annual salary. They said the workers were only paid when placed at a third-party client and the defendants sometimes generated false payroll records.

When federal officials launched an audit of Sharma's firms, the defendants allegedly provided fabricated leave or vacation slips for the time periods that the foreign workers were not working, to conceal that they were not paid as required by federal law.

The defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and obstruct justice and conspiracy to harbor aliens. They face up to 15 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

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