The operators of a Herndon company that promised visas to hundreds of would-be immigrants in exchange for cash investments of $100,000 to $150,000 have been indicted on charges of immigration fraud, money laundering and misusing their clients' money.
James A. Geisler, 47, and James F. O'Connor, 43, who were arrested late Thursday, recruited foreigners for the little-known EB-5 visa program, which gives green cards to aliens who invest $500,000 in an American business that creates 10 jobs in a rural or poor area.
But their company, Interbank Group, told clients that they could qualify for the program with just $100,000 to $150,000 in cash, according to a 61-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Interbank used a complicated series of financial transactions to make it appear that their clients had invested the full $500,000, the indictment said. Little money ever was invested in American businesses.
All told, the indictment alleges, Geisler and O'Connor filed 320 false applications on behalf of 270 people in 1997 and 1998. For some clients, the company filed multiple applications, saying the money was being used to create jobs in Florida or in Virginia and West Virginia.
O'Connor said yesterday that the indictments were politically motivated. He said that the visa program had been used to funnel overseas campaign contributions to the Democratic Party and that the company was being punished for using the program for legitimate purposes.
"The indictment is part of an ongoing fight we are having with the INS," he said. "They destroyed our business. . . . None of the indictment is true, and we fully expect to be found innocent should this case go to trial."
Geisler could not be reached for comment.
Forty-three Interbank clients got temporary visas under the program, many of which have been revoked. Other applications were suspended or denied after the Immigration and Naturalization Service raided the company in August 1998. Virtually all the clients lost their money, according to the indictment, and more than a dozen have sued Interbank in Washington area federal and state courts.
The news of the arrests "makes me feel good," said Mario Carbini, 55, an Italian accountant who gave Interbank nearly $130,000 in his quest to become a U.S. citizen. "I rushed to get into their program, and they were crooks."
John Partridge, a lawyer who won default judgments against Interbank on behalf of two families, said: "Hopefully this will lead to [money being recovered] because the FBI and the Justice Department have resources we do not. . . . These were people that worked hard and put their life savings into this and never got anything."
According to the indictment, Geisler and O'Connor were supposed to hold clients' money in escrow, but instead they used it to pay themselves and cover Interbank's expenses.
To deceive the INS about how much each immigrant had invested, Interbank allegedly would transfer nearly $400,000 from a bank in the Bahamas to an Interbank subsidiary in Virginia. There, Interbank would generate a report that showed the required $500,000 balance in an applicant's account and then wire the money back to the Bahamas, the indictment said.
Arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 21. At an initial appearance yesterday, both men said they could not afford counsel, so U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan said she would appoint lawyers for them.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Spencer said in court that both men could face prison sentences stretching into the hundreds of years if they were convicted on all counts and received the maximum penalties.
Both men have been charged with conspiracy, money laundering and immigration fraud. O'Connor, of Broad Run, also faces charges of filing false tax returns. Geisler, of Springfield, has been charged with bankruptcy fraud. The government wants the pair to forfeit $17 million in assets.
Immigration officials hailed the indictment as a sign that the government will not tolerate trafficking in green cards. "Visa fraud whether done on the streets by selling fraudulent cards or through an elaborate financial scheme is against the law and will be investigated and prosecuted," said INS District Director Warren A. Lewis. But some of Interbank's alleged victims say the government is partly to blame.
"I'm very very bitter with these guys, but also with the INS. If the INS hadn't approved the program, I would never have given them my money," said Carbini, who lives in California and says he does not have the money to start anew in another country.