Two Silicon Valley executives face charges of visa fraud and conspiracy to commit visa fraud, announced the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California.
According to the indictment, Elangovan Punniakoti and Mary Christeena between 2010 and May 2020 submitted approximately 54 fraudulent H-1B visa applications for temporary nonimmigrant workers sponsored by Innovate Solutions, of which Punniakoti was CEO and Christeena was president. Punniakoti and Christeena submitted, or caused to be submitted, statements in the application process that the foreign workers would be working offsite at specific end-client companies. The indictment charges that the identified end-client companies either never received the proposed foreign workers or never intended to receive those workers. The indictment also charges that Punniakoti and Christeena submitted, or caused to be submitted, statements that a foreign worker would be working on an internal project for Innovate Solutions despite knowing that no such project existed.
Once the applications were approved, Punniakoti and Christeena allegedly created a pool of H-1B workers that were placed at employment positions with other employers that had actual work, not with the identified end-clients. During the period of Punniakoti’s and Christeena’s alleged conspiracy, the other employers paid fees of more than $2.5 million to Innovate Solutions to cover the cost of the H-1B workers’ wages and salaries as well as a profit markup for Innovate Solutions.
The federal indictment charges both Punniakoti and Christeena with one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, which carries a maximum statutory imprisonment sentence of 5 years, and six counts of visa fraud, which carries the maximum statutory imprisonment sentence of 10 years for each count. Each of the charged statutes carry a maximum statutory fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss amount.
Punniakoti and Christeena made their initial appearances in San Jose, California, federal court on April 12. A further court appearance is scheduled for July 25. Both defendants were released.