May 17 (UPI) -- Three California men were indicted Thursday for immigration fraud after authorities said they charged Mexican nationals thousands of dollars for work visas.
The U.S. Attorney's Office of the Central District of California said Jorge Vasquez, 58, Melquiades Jacinto Lara, 62, and Ricardo Mendoza Oseguera, 39, ran a scheme to charge Mexican farmworkers fees for transportation, room, board and H-2A visas, which are used for agriculture jobs in the United States.
Charging fees to obtain H-2A visas is illegal under federal law.
According to prosecutors, Vasquez traveled to Mexico to recruit farmworkers and charged them as much as $3,000 to obtain an H-2A visa.
"In addition to illegally charging the foreign workers, Vasquez also allegedly made false promises to the workers about how long the visas would be valid and failed to tell the workers that they would be charged for housing, food and transportation," prosecutors said.
Officials said Vasquez also promised an H-2A visa to an undercover agent who he believed was an undocumented immigrant wanting to work in construction, even though the H-2A doesn't cover construction jobs.
Additionally, Vasquez and Jacinto are accused of filing federal documents with false statements for 75 workers to harvest lemons, avocados and oranges.
Vasquez and Jacinto were charged with conspiracy, three counts of mail fraud, one count of visa fraud and one count of fraud in foreign labor contracting. Prosecutors said the men told immigrant workers in 2013 the H-2A visas would be valid for three years, even though they knew the visas would expire later that year.
Jacinto and Mendoza are also charged with one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.
Mendoza is the owner of Discoteca Mi Pueblito, a music and convenience store in Santa Paula, Calif., that served as a check-cashing and wire transfer service where the farmworkers would redeem vouchers or checks paid to them by Jacinto.
If convicted, the men face up to 20 years in prison.