CBS News has learned that U.S. and Brazilian immigrant officials arrested 11 people Monday for allegedly operating a work visa scam with offices in Orlando, Fla., which generated more than $53 million from thousands of illegal immigrant victims since 2002.
The U.S. Consulate called the scam one of the largest of its kind in history.
Sources told CBS News that more than 4,500 victims paid between $1,000 and $15,000 for fraudulent documents which then helped them to obtain H2B temporary work visas to enter the United States.
The scam operated in the United States through an Orlando-based company called Travel Work Study Overseas, officials said.
The defendants then allegedly arranged for illegal immigrant victims to come to the United States by taking advantage of State Department's temporary work visa program (the H2A and H2B program) and petitioned for more H2B visas.
On their Web site, TWSO claims to offer "cultural and work exchange international programs for all who want to realize a life project," but sources tell CBS News that scam victims often found no work once they arrived in the country. Monday, Brazilian authorities issued arrest warrants for four people suspected of operating the US side of the scam: Valeria Dozzi Barbugli, Rodrigo Dozzi Calza, Bruno Dozzi Barbugli and Valquiria Dozzi Batalha, all of Sau Paulo, Brazil.
"We're dealing with a case here where we've had people using fraud-fraudulent documents-in order to bring workers into the U.S. under temporary worker visas without ensuring that they're actually legitimate travelers," said Thomas J White, the Consul General at U.S. Consulate General, Sao Paulo. "The visa fraud affects American workers in that it puts illegal immigrants into the U.S. economy who are eventually going to take jobs away from American workers."
Earlier Monday, federal agents executed a search warrant for the Travel Work Study Overseas offices on Universal Boulevard in Orlando. Zachary Stoumbos, an attorney for TWSO refused to comment on the search. "I've been working for this company for years. We just got handed a search warrant. I need to speak with my client," he said.
White told CBS News Monday's actions today in Brazil represent an important victory for the State Department. Visa fraud is "a threat to the security of the United States, and it's a threat to legitimate small businesses who need temporary workers," White said.