San Diego – An Indian American pleaded guilty on Thursday (February 21) as the leader of a multi-million dollar immigration fraud scheme that tricked more than 100 victims out of millions of dollars based on false claims that they could secure immigration status in the United States.
Hardev Panesar, 70 pleaded guilty before US District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel to all counts, including one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, three counts of wire fraud, four counts of false impersonation of a federal officer, and one count of structuring financial transactions.Panesar Indictment
Panesar also pleaded guilty to a separate count of failing to appear in court, resulting from his decision to “jump bail” and on June 21, 2018, fleeing to Tijuana, Mexico, the day before a scheduled hearing in the case. Panesar remained a fugitive, hiding in Mexico, until August 13, 2018, when he was arrested by Mexican authorities and expelled back to the United States. Panesar has been in custody ever since, pending trial.
According to the plea agreement details from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Panesar admitted that from at least 2012 through May 24, 2017, he defrauded immigrants and aliens by inducing them to pay money to him based on fraudulent claims that he and his co-conspirators could obtain legal status in the United States for the victims and their families.
Panesar managed to defraud the victims by impersonating an official from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and claiming that he had the power to stop deportation proceedings. “To trick his victims, Panesar repeatedly showed fake agency credentials, provided immigration applications, and took fingerprints of victims,” the DOJ disclosed, adding, “He often demanded more money to speed up the process or guarantee the immigration documents by a certain date.”
Panesar and his co-conspirators, however, never delivered on their promise to provide immigration documents, despite collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from victims. As part of the plea agreement, Panesar agreed to pay approximately $2.5 million in restitution to his many victims, the DOJ documents noted.
Panesar is scheduled to be sentenced on May 10, 2019, at 8:30 a.m. before Judge Curiel. Rafael Hastie, one of Panesar co-conspirators, was sentenced to 46 months in custody on January 4, 2019.
As the investigation into this case continues, the San Diego Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking possible victims in this investigation from 2000 through 2017. If you believe you are a potential victim of this crime, please fill out the questionnaire at https://forms.fbi.gov/SDImmigrationFraud or email the FBI at SDImmigrationFraud@ic.fbi.gov