NEW YORK – Three individuals, including two Indian Americans, were arrested June 7 in connection with a scheme to allegedly defraud victims seeking immigration status in the United States.
Prosecutors say as part of the fraud, two of the defendants – Hardev Panesar, 69, of El Cajon, California, and Rafael Hastie, 47, of Tijuana, Mexico – posed as officers of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and promised that they could obtain immigration status for people in exchange for exorbitant fees. Gurdev Singh 56, of Bakersfield, California is also charged with allegedly assisting his conspirators in the scheme.
The three have been charged on 31 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, false impersonation of an officer or employee of the U.S.; and structuring domestic financial institutions.
According to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed June 7, although Panesar and Hastie have never worked at DHS, they claimed to be DHS agents from at least 2014, claiming they had the authority to procure lawful immigration documents and legal status for individuals who lacked such status in the United States; The two also allegedly claimed they had the power to stop deportation proceedings.
The indictment alleges that Panesar, Hastie and Singh defrauded victims out of approximately $6,000,000 from the scheme, and used the money for their own personal use. They solicited and recruited victims across the United States, including California and Indiana, and Mexico, according to the Justice Department.
Panesar and Hastie convinced victims that they were agents, in part, because they showed fake agency credentials when meeting with the victims. The two also provided immigration applications to victims and took fingerprints supposedly for immigration forms. They often demanded more money to speed up the process or guarantee the immigration documents by a certain date. Panesar, Hastie, and Singh never delivered on their promise despite collecting thousands of dollars from each of the more than 150 victims.
The investigation into this case continues. The San Diego Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking more information of possible victims in this investigation from 2000 through 2017.