WASHINGTON, DC – December 13, 2010 – (RealEstateRama) — A Florida man and two U.K. nationals pleaded guilty Dec.10, 2010, to immigration fraud charges for their roles in a scheme to fraudulently procure visas from the U.S. Embassy in London through a Florida property development company called Royal Development. The guilty pleas were announced today by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Robert E. O’Neill of the Middle District of Florida; Eric J. Boswell, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security; and Special Agent in Charge Linda J. Osuna of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation Division.
Richard A. Murdoch, 54, of Florida, pleaded guilty to visa fraud and tax evasion in relation to the immigration fraud scheme. Hugh Morgan, 68, a U.K. national residing in Ontario, Canada, and Christopher A. Barrett, 49, a U.K. national residing in Florida, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. Murdoch and Barrett pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David A. Baker. Morgan also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit immigration fraud in a separate but related case involving immigration benefit applications submitted to U.S. immigration authorities for a U.K. national named Michael J. Leggett. Leggett previously pleaded guilty to two counts of immigration fraud in relation to Royal Development and his own immigration benefit applications in the Middle District of Florida on Aug. 24, 2007. Morgan’s pleas took place before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory J. Kelly.
At sentencing, Murdoch faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for visa fraud and five years for tax evasion; Morgan faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for each conspiracy charge; and Barrett faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. Each defendant is also subject to a maximum fine of $250,000 for each charge. Morgan is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9, 2011, and Murdoch and Barrett are scheduled to be sentenced on March 10, 2011.
On April 7, 2010, Murdoch, Morgan and Barrett were indicted for one count of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud and four counts of immigration fraud in relation to Royal Development. The indictment also charged Murdoch with three counts of tax evasion. Murdoch and Barrett were arrested on April 26, 2010, in Florida and Morgan was arrested on the same day in Ontario, Canada, in response to a U.S. government extradition request related to the Nov. 4, 2009, indictment in the separate but related case.
According to court documents, from approximately June 2003 to November 2006, the defendants conspired to commit immigration fraud through Royal Development, which purportedly sold Florida-based home construction companies to foreign nationals. The conspirators represented that the purchase of a company would enable foreign nationals to qualify for and obtain either a treaty investor (E-2) visa or intracompany transferee (L-1A) visa. Along with the sale of the companies, the conspirators generally represented that they would submit the required visa paperwork to U.S. authorities, help the foreign nationals run the company, and help the foreign nationals adjust to life in the United States. According to court documents, the conspirators required a payment of between $65,000 to $165,000 for the purchase of the company and the visa services. During the course of this conspiracy, Royal Development obtained over $2.4 million from the U.K. investors.
According to plea documents, Murdoch admitted that he knowingly presented required applications, affidavits and other documents that contained materially false statements to U.S. immigration authorities. In addition, Murdoch admitted that from approximately June 2003 to April 2006, Murdoch received approximately $536,593 in income from Royal Development for which he should have paid income taxes and that he intentionally failed to file his federal income tax returns for 2003, 2004, and 2005, by the respective due dates, because he was concealing his income from the IRS. The total tax due and owing on this taxable income to the U.S. government is $189,852. Murdoch also admitted that he used the taxable income from Royal Development for personal expenses such as hang gliding, cigars, and the purchase of a 1987 Porsche.
According to plea documents, Morgan and Barrett admitted that they knowingly presented required applications, affidavits and other documents that contained materially false statements to U.S. immigration authorities. In particular, Morgan and Barrett admitted that they knowingly prepared and submitted fraudulent immigration benefit applications for Barrett as well as Barrett’s adult daughter, enabling both Barrett and his daughter to fraudulently procure L-1A visas and come to and work in the United States.
The case was investigated by the Diplomatic Security Service – Criminal Investigations Division in Washington, D.C., and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division in Maitland, Florida. The Fraud Prevention Unit at the U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom provided significant assistance. The Diplomatic Security Service – Regional Security Offices in Toronto, Canada, and London, United Kingdom, and the Diplomatic Security Service Miami Field Office provided invaluable support.
In addition, the government of Canada, including Canadian prosecutors and the Toronto Fugitive Squad, provided significant assistance. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided valuable assistance.
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney James S. Yoon of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen L. Gable of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.