How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

LA employment agency owner sentenced for visa fraud

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The owner of a Wilshire Center employment agency has been sentenced to two years in prison on charges stemming from a visa fraud investigation.

Lilia Tabafunda, 58, was accused of filing at least 100 falsified work visa petitions on behalf of people who mostly arrived in the country on tourist visas, primarily from the Philippines.

Immigration officials said that the owner of People’s Resources International Services claimed that her clients had been recruited to work with major hospitals and non-profits, in some cases inventing employers that didn't exist.

"She basically made up  companies, she made up jobs," said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In other cases, "she would claim that these individuals on whose behalf she was filing these applications, that their services were being sought by in some cases big-name, well-known hospitals or companies."

They weren't, but according to ICE and court documents, Tabafunda charged between $2,500 and $10,000 to file visa petitions for her clients.

According to ICE, some of the employers that Tabafunda falsely claimed were planning to employ her clients included City of Hope, Los Angeles' Barlow Respiratory Hospital and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Jobs she allegedly listed on their bogus visa petitions included positions like budget analysts, clinical research specialists and “health educators.”

The federal government began investigating Tabafunda in 2007, after officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services detected suspicious H-1B non-immigrant visa petitions being filed. She pleaded guilty to the fraud charges in July of last year. 

Tabafunda's 24-month sentence also includes a year in prison for not admitting to criminal activity during her U.S. citizenship interview in July 2011, according to ICE.

Already under investigation, Tabafunda didn't get to become a citizen. She stands to be deported to the Philippines once her sentence is complete, and has also been ordered to pay more than $54,000 in restitution.

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