Wednesday, August 7, 2019

USCIS Detects and Assists in Conviction of U-Visa Fraud Perpetrators

The South Carolina residents were convicted of attempting to fraudulently acquire U-visas for three foreign nationals in order to remain illegally in the United States

GREENVILLE, S.C.  A jury convicted two residents of South Carolina individuals of conspiracy to defraud the United States by attempting to fraudulently acquire “U-Visas” for three foreign nationals. Miguel Bautista-Manuel, age 41, of Mexico, and Travis Lee Nixon, age 29, of Greenville, were sentenced to federal prison for their roles in a conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Bautista-Manuel and Nixon attempted to fraudulently acquire “U-Visas” for Bautista-Manuel, Jose Pineda-Hernandez, age 38, of Honduras, and Oscar Pineda-Martinez, age 24, also of Honduras.

Senior United States District Court Judge Henry M. Herlong, Jr., of Greenville sentenced Bautista-Manuel to 8 1/2 months in federal prison and Nixon to 12 months in federal prison.  Pineda-Martinez was previously sentenced to time-served, and Pineda-Hernandez is awaiting sentencing. 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Fraud Detection and National Security assisted Homeland Security Investigations special agents by providing USCIS case information critical in bringing this case to conviction.

The conviction announcement was made August 1 by United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon and Homeland Security Investigations Acting Special Agent in Charge Christopher Healy.

U-Visas, so named from the statutory provision authorizing their issuance, are intended to provide lawful immigration status to victims of certain crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and who are willing to assist law enforcement in the prosecution of the criminal activity.  The number of U-visas that can be issued each year is statutorily limited.

Facts presented in court established that Bautista-Manuel engaged Nixon to act as the perpetrator of a staged armed robbery of which Bautista-Manuel, Pineda-Hernandez, and Pineda-Martinez were the purported victims.  The three reported the staged robbery to the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, which devoted resources to investigating the robbery.  Bautista-Manuel, Pineda-Hernandez, and Pineda-Martinez then used the purported armed robbery, and their assistance in its investigation, as the basis for fraudulent petitions filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services seeking U-Visas.

“U-Visas play an important role in helping victims of serious crimes obtain justice,” said U.S. Attorney Lydon.  “Those who commit fraud to obtain them divert already limited law enforcement resources and deprive true victims with a sincere willingness to assist law enforcement of legal immigration benefits.”

Acting Special Agent in Charge Healy added, “Fraud like that committed by these defendants not only delays the issuance of U-Visas to legitimate crime victims but also wastes limited law enforcement resources.”

Agents of Homeland Security Investigations in Greenville investigated the case, with assistance from the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.  Assistant United States Attorneys David Stephens and Max Cauthen, both of the Greenville office, prosecuted the case.

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