Two Santa Clara software development company executives charged with visa fraud

The two senior executives of a Santa Clara software development company were charged this week in federal court in San Jose with visa fraud and conspiracy to commit visa fraud.

Elangovan Punniakoti, 52, CEO of Innovate Solutions and Mary Christeena, 47, president of Innovate Solutions, a technology services company founded in Cupertino in 2008 and currently based in Santa Clara, appeared in federal court on April 12 to face federal indictments. Punniakoti and Christeena are residents of Cupertino.

U.S. attorney Stephanie M. Hinds said the indictments followed investigations by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, Homeland Security and the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security. of the Citizenship and Immigration Service.

According to the indictment, Innovate Solutions, Inc. in Santa Clara County was incorporated in 2008 as an information technology services company.

The indictment alleges that from 2010 to May 2020, Punniakoti and Christeena repeatedly submitted fraudulent H-1B visa applications for foreign workers sponsored by Innovate Solutions. H-1B visas are issued through the US government’s H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers program. With an H-1B visa, a sponsoring employer can employ a foreign worker in the United States on a temporary, nonimmigrant basis in a “specialty occupation.”

During the period of the Punniakoti and Christeena conspiracy, the indictment alleges, the other employers paid more than $2.5 million in fees to Innovate Solutions to cover the cost of wages and salaries for H-1B workers. as well as increased profits for Innovate Solutions.

The federal indictment charges both Punniakoti and Christeena with one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and six counts of visa fraud. The maximum statutory jail term for the conspiracy charge is 5 years in prison. The maximum statutory jail term for each visa fraud violation is 10 years. Each of the offending statutes is also punishable by a maximum statutory fine of $250,000 or twice the gross amount of the gain or loss.

A skilled occupation requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge and requires the employee to hold a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in the relevant specialty. Each employer seeking an H-1B visa to employ a nonimmigrant alien worker is required to submit an application to the United States Department of Labor that, among other things, certifies the working conditions and describes the existence, duration, and the salary of the temporary worker. work. prosecutors said.

A subsequent request requires, among other information, the biographical data of the proposed foreign worker and the address where the proposed foreign worker will work for the sponsoring employer.

The indictment charges Punniakoti and Christeena with submitting approximately 54 fraudulent H-1B visa applications for non-immigrant temporary workers sponsored by Innovate Solutions. Each application required representations made under penalty of perjury as to the name, location, terms, and existence of the sponsored nonimmigrant worker’s position.

The indictment says Punniakoti and Christeena submitted statements as part of the application process that the foreign workers would work offsite at specific client companies. The indictment accuses the identified client companies of never having received the proposed foreign workers or having never intended to receive these workers.

The indictment also charges Punniakoti and Christeena with submitting or causing to be submitted statements that a foreign worker was working on an internal project for Innovate Solutions when he knew no such project existed.

Once the applications were approved, Punniakoti and Christeena created a group of H-1B workers who were placed in positions with other employers who had actual work, not with the identified end customers. According to the federal indictment, this practice provided Innovate Solutions with an unfair and unlawful advantage over recruiting firms.

Punniakoti and Christeena have been released, pending their next scheduled court appearance in San Jose federal court on July 25.

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