It was listed in the District of Columbia job file as a thriving auto repair shop, with six full-time employes and an annual gross income of $475,000. But when the D.C. Department of Labor sent job seekers to Bill's Auto Repair Service two years ago, they found instead a dilapidated apartment building on a dead-end street.
The case of the missing garage led to jail sentences last week for two Maryland men who investigators say took money from aliens seeking labor certifications.
Ralph D. Holland, a former $24,000-a-year official with the Prince George's County school system, and William DeLoach, a youth counselor who works in Camp Srpings and lives in the District, were each convicted of two felonies for making false statements about the nonexistent garage.
Investigators said the repair service was fabricated to provide aliens, for fees ranging from $150 to $500, with the job status required to obtain permanent residence permits.
"This type of fraud is pervasive and widespread," said Bob McQueen, an investigator for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service who collected much of the evidence in the case. "But this is the first time we've brought successful prosecution to a case like this in at least five years."
During a four-day trial in December, prosecution witnesses depicted Holland and DeLoach as a partnership, known by word-of-mouth in certain communities to have access to prized labor certifications. These certifications can lead to permanent residence permits, commonly called green cards.
"Aliens will hop on the opportunity to get that green card," said McQueen. "Anybody who comes along and dangles that ray of hope, they're willing to take the chance."
Green cards can be obtained legally by finding a job that an employer cannot fill from the American work force in the area, by marrying a U.S. citizen or by fulfilling a number of other requirements.
Among other ways, employers can help aliens obtain work certifications illegally by inventing companies and hiring aliens to fill imaginary positions, then filing their names with the government.
On the underground market, INS officials say, the payments for green cards can reach $2,000. And the alien gets no receipt.
"Aliens are getting ripped off a lot," said James R. Corcy, supervisor of the INS investigative squad. "Most of them are defenseless. They can't go to the police and they can't turn to Immigration because we are the ones they are trying to get around in the first place. It's no ordinary scam because (operators) aren't concerned about being informed on by their victims."
During the trial of Holland and DeLoach in U.S. District Court here, two Iranians, an Ethiopian and an Indian testified that they had paid fees ranging from $150 to $500 directly to Holland in return for work permits. In two cases, INS investigators could find no certification papers filed for the aliens.
It was an application for one of the Iranian aliens, however, that prompted an investigation. Because the papers filed for Hossein Goodarzi were for an auto mechanic's job and the D.C. Department of Labor had qualified U.S. mechanics available for work, it sent candidates to the so-called Bill's Auto Repair Service. The job seekers reported back that the shop was not at the listed address.
"It was a misunderstanding," Michael S. Frisch, the court-appointed lawyer for DeLoach, said after the trial. "They (the statements) were expectations of what his business could be, not what it was at present."
Since DeLoach filled out the certification application for Goodarzi which DeLoach signed under the alias Bill Zackman, his guilt was easier to establish, according to prosecutors.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Linsky, who prosecuted the case, argued that the mastermind of the operation was Holland, who has a Ph.D. in education and was director of early childhood education for Prince George's public schools from 1974 to 1977.
Holland, who lived in Camp Springs until he moved to North Carolina in November, testified that he did not intentionally provide false information to either the Labor Department or the aliens. He admitted that he had received payments, but said they were legitimate job placement fees for referring the aliens to DeLoach and the garage that he assumed existed.
"Holland did legitimately attempt to find employment for people," said his attorney, Dennis O'Keefe. He maintains there is no evidence to prove his client tried to get false work permits. "He wasn't charged with ripping off aliens."
Holland, however, was sentenced to two concurrent terms of eight to 24 months in jail, while DeLoach received shorter concurrent sentences of six to 18 months. Lawyers for both men have filed appeals.
According to the prosecutors, similar cases are usually settled by plea bargaining to a lesser charge. Defense attorneys, however, opted for a jury trial, partly because the main prosecution witness was Iranian.
"As a matter of trial strategy, one hoped the jury would not be too thrilled with the testimony of an Iranian," said attorney Frisch. "It didn't work."
The sentences were not as harsh as INS investigator McQueen had hoped for, but he said the convictions were encouraging.
"This is probably the best way of showing the aliens we are not the bad men all the time," said McQueen.