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Former Missouri State Lawmaker Gets 15 Months In Prison For Visa Fraud

U.S. Department of Justice
St. Louis, MO
December 10, 2007

Michael W. Reap, First Assistant United States Attorney
Easter District of Missouri

Ex-Legislator Sentenced to Prison On Visa Fraud Charges

Nathan Cooper, former State Representative in Cape Girardeau, and a Cape Girardeau attorney specializing in immigration law, was sentenced this morning to 15 months in prison on fraud charges involving his illegal scheme to obtain temporary worker visas for his clients in the trucking business, First Assistant United States Attorney Michael Reap announced today.

Cooper pled guilty in August to the visa fraud charges on which he was sentenced today. In papers filed with the court he admitted to setting up “dummy companies” to further illegal visa requests on behalf of trucking company clients. As part of the visa application process Cooper submitted the initial papers in the “dummy” names to the State of Missouri in order to obtain the State’s certification of a need for foreign workers. He did this while he served as a State Representative for the Cape Girardeau area. Cooper resigned from his seat shortly after pleading guilty in August. Cooper admitted that he unlawfully obtained in excess of 100 visas by creating these entities.

“It is fitting that a lawyer and an elected official who abuses the immigration laws of this country will go to jail for his actions,” said Reap. “Cooper’s actions were particularly offensive in that he also deceived the State of Missouri as part of his scheme while he was serving as a State Representative. Strict enforcement of our immigration laws will remain a priority for this office.”

Cooper’s practice included specialized work with immigration law, and he represented a number of employers in applications for visas under the H2B visa program. This program is administered through both the State of Missouri as well as the United States Department of Labor, the United States Department of Homeland Security, Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of State. The H2B visa program allows for the granting of a fixed number of visas for seasonal workers. Companies with a seasonal rush who are unable to satisfy their hiring needs at the prevailing wage from native workers in their area may apply to sponsor temporary immigrant workers to fill this need. For example, H2B visas have been validly awarded to employers in the construction and hospitality industries to allow them to sponsor immigrant workers to help in the seasonal rush of business that affects these industries.

In the course of his practice, Cooper became familiar with the H2B visa program. At the same time, prospective clients in the trucking business reported to the him that they had chronic shortages of workers. These trucking companies did not have seasonal needs envisioned within the H2B visa program. Instead, their businesses were steady all year round so they were not appropriate candidates for participation in the H2B visa program.

Cooper developed a scheme to convince the government to issue improper visas and otherwise to impede the lawful operation of the H2B visa program in a number of ways. In his plea agreement, Cooper admitted to the fraudulent creation of “dummy” companies in the names of which Cooper would apply for visa to be used for other companies, to issuing bogus letters intended to deceive law enforcement as to the immigration status of his client’s workers, and to the outright purchase of visas from other contacts to be illegally transferred to his client’s workers.

In 2004 and 2005 alone, the Cooper took in at least $50,000 in legal fees from clients in the trucking industry using these techniques. The court entered a judgement of forfeiture against those fees and today Cooper made a $50,000 payment into the Court’s registry to pay the judgment.

Gordon Heddell, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Labor, said: “This sentencing sends a clear warning that no one, including elected officials, is above the law. This individual circumvented the foreign labor certification program by illegally facilitating the entry of workers for personal gain. My office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate those who seek to defraud DOL programs.”

“Diplomatic Security aggressively pursues all allegations of visa fraud,” stated Kurt R. Rice, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. State Department Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Chicago Field Office. “When a federal felony such as visa fraud is committed by an elected official in a position of trust, we take the case extremely seriously and will work vigorously to investigate claims of corruption.”

Cooper, 34, of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, pled guilty last August to one felony count of visa fraud and one felony count of making a false statement to the Department of Labor. He appeared today for sentencing before United States District Judge Jean C. Hamilton who also ordered Cooper to pay a $6000 fine and to spend two years on supervised release after he is released from prison.

Additionally, as part of his plea, Cooper has been terminated in his participation as an agent or representative of any employer with respect to any matter concerning the Department of Labor’s Foreign Certification programs.

Reap commended the work on the case by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship & Immigration Services (CIS), the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Assistant United States Attorneys James Crowe and Tom Albus, who handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Darby G. Holladay
Bureau of Diplomatic Security/Public Affairs

Public Affairs Officer Jan Diltz
U.S. Department of Justice

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