Shrewsbury man charged with visa fraud scheme

Boston Globe
By Meghan E. Irons
Globe Staff / June 1, 2011

A Brazilian national who lives in Shrewsbury is accused of running an illegal scheme to smuggle fellow countrymen to the United States, sometimes charging in excess of $10,000 to help them obtain seasonal work visas through two Massachusetts landscaping companies.

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office has charged Marcio Freitas, a 44-year-old married father of three, with conspiracy to commit visa fraud starting in 2003, when he allegedly began asking his employer, Hester Landscape of Northborough, to petition the US consulate in Brazil for temporary visas, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in US District Court in Worcester yesterday.

Freitas allegedly knew there were no jobs for the workers at the companies who sponsored them, and he allegedly knew that the Brazilians who paid him for visas intended to remain in the United states long after their H-2B temporary work visas expired, according to the complaint filed by Assistant US Attorney David G. Tobin.

Freitas’s attorney, Kevin R. Leeper, said his client denies any wrongdoing, saying Freitas was a “small guy’’ who had no authority to petition on behalf of foreign workers. He said that while Freitas was an employee at Hester Landscape, the owner of the company had asked him to recruit fellow countrymen and that Freitas had no idea the visas would be used fraudulently. “He knew people from his country back home who would love to come to America and work,’’ said Leeper. “He gave [the company] names. That is not illegal.’’

Richard Hester, owner of Hester Landscape, said in an interview yesterday that he complied with the law when he petitioned to get foreign nationals as seasonal workers. He said his business is in constant need of laborers and acknowledged that he had asked Freitas to help him recruit fellow Brazilian nationals. “We don’t care where they come from,’’ Hester said. “We asked him to help with the workers, and he did that to the best of my knowledge.’’

Hester said he fired Freitas a few years ago because he had a side job and missed a lot of work at the landscape company.

Freitas was arrested at his home on Friday and charged. A hearing was held Friday in US District Court in Worcester, where he was ordered to a June 6 detention hearing because he was deemed a flight risk.

A spokeswoman at the US Attorney’s office, Christina DiIorio-Sterling, yesterday declined to provide further details about the case, citing a policy that bars comment on ongoing cases. Officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement also declined comment.

Under US law, foreign nationals are not permitted to work in the country unless they obtain H-2B temporary work visas, which allow labor on a one-time, seasonal, or intermittent basis — usually less than a year.

The US Consulate in Sao Paulo interviewed 94 Brazilians referred by Freitas for temporary work visas, according to the complaint. Forty-six entered the United States, and 42 remained in the United States long after the visas expired. Thirty-four never reported wages from Hester Landscape.

In the course of the investigation, an unidentified informant working with investigators contacted Freitas about the possibility of smuggling an uncle from Brazil to the United States on a fraudulent work visa, the complaint said. In May 2008, he allegedly told the informant he had three “open spots for people to come to the United States from Brazil’’ and told the informant he needed a $1,000 nonrefundable down payment. About that time, the complaint alleges, a Brazilian national named Sandra Ferreira obtained a work visa from Freitas through Hester Landscape. After she was arrested in March, she told federal agents that Freitas set up an interview at the US embassy in Brazil and gave her instructions on what to say during the interview. She said she paid Freitas $11,000 to receive visas for her and three friends, the complaint alleges.

In early February, the complaint alleges, federal agents interviewed a second informant who told them that Freitas had offered to pay $20,000 to get visas through a second company, not named in the complaint, plus $1,000 each for names of anyone wanting to buy a visa. The informant said Freitas charged $10,000 for the work visas, the complaint said. ... ud_scheme/