Guilty Plea in Visa Fraud Case, Brazilian Forfeits $55 Million

by Hannah Chanpong of the CBS News Investigative Unit

CBS News has learned that a plea has been reached in one of the largest visa fraud cases in history.

Court documents show that Valeria Dozzi Barbugli pled guilty Wednesday to visa fraud, conspiracy to smuggle humans and encouraging foreign aliens to enter the United States.

According to the deal made with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, Barbugli has agreed to forfeit $55 million, which represents the proceeds of the approximately four-year operation.

CBS News first reported on the scam last December, when U.S. and Brazilian officials arrested Barbugli and ten others for using fake documents to get temporary visas for foreign individuals looking for work in the United States. According to new court filings, Barbugli and her co-conspirators "fraudulently obtained" more than 1,000 H2B temporary visas, ultimately creating "a permanent foreign labor pool." Barbugli ran the scheme out of an Orlando-based company called VR Services that contracted workers to at least 14 hotels in Florida, Ohio and Arkansas. Since the beginning of 2006, the group created 11 subsidiary companies to apply for visas.

The plea agreement shows that one hotel paid VR Services more than $200,000 for temporary employees. The foreign workers also paid VR between $350 and $750 for visa applications. As part of the deal, Barbugli agreed to "make full restitution to those eligible workers employed by VR Services."

Court documents say Barbugli acted with "reckless disregard" for the law "for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain." She is in custody in the Orange County Jail in Orlando, Fla., according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office. A date for the formal entrance of her plea will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

Sources told CBS News that Barbugli's husband, Wilson Rodriguez Barbugli, and son, Eduardo Dozzi Barbugli, are expected to sign similar deals later this month. They are both in custody at the Seminole County Jail in Sanford, Fla.

Diplomatic Security Service agents in both Brazil and the U.S. and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials investigated the scam.