COCOA BEACH, Fla. - A Brevard County restaurant owner is among a group of people facing federal allegations they operated a scheme to buy fake green cards for 43 illegal immigrants, promising more than $600,000 to an undercover agent.
Local 6 news partner Florida Today reports that according to federal documents, the owners of Thai restaurants in Brevard and Indian River counties met with the Department of Homeland Security agent on a regular basis between December 2011 and October 2012. They submitted documents and filled out forms on behalf of the illegal immigrants, thinking the "corrupt" agent would help them if they paid a fee of up to $20,000 per green card.
Those charged in the case are: Chatchai Nakornprai, 47, and Boonting Nuampaton, 49, of Melbourne; and Sataporn Panamwan Na Ayuttaya, 44, and Sarah Tipfun, 59, of Vero Beach. Florida Division of Corporation records show Nakornprai is an owner of Siam Orchid Thai and Japanese restaurants in Melbourne and Cocoa Beach.
They face charges including conspiracy to commit visa fraud and bribery, with the apparent ringleader, Tipfun, facing a total of 13 felony charges. The maximum penalty for a bribery conviction is 15 years in prison with a fine up to $250,000, or three times the bribe.
The federal indictment in the current case says Tipfun promised to pay about $618,000 for the green cards in several meetings that the other suspects also attended.
In October, the suspects and 25 co-conspirators met with the undercover DHS agent and a Thai law enforcement officer at Tipfun's restaurant in Vero Beach.
The four suspects who appear to have organized and led the operation tentatively have been scheduled to go to trial in February.
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