U.S. judge clears way for trial in alleged visa scheme

Claims of misconduct by prosecutor rejected

March 17, 2001|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Clearing the way for a March 28 criminal trial of two men accused of masterminding a multimillion-dollar visa fraud scheme, a federal judge summarily rejected yesterday a series of defense motions charging prosecutorial misconduct.

"I don't find any misconduct," said U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton in denying the motions by the operators of a Herndon-based immigration company. The judge rejected several of the motions before prosecutors could even speak to oppose them.

Hilton's decisions, made during a 60-minute session, clear the way for a trial this month of two Virginia men - James F. O'Connor, 43, and James A. Geisler, 47 - charged with orchestrating the alleged scheme.

They ran a company called Interbank Immigration Services, which marketed a program that promised permanent visas to foreigners who invested in an American business.

In an 80-page indictment issued last year, prosecutors charged that the two men, as part of a $134 million scheme, filed more than 300 false visa applications with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1997 and 1998.

According to the indictment, Geisler and O'Connor told investors they could qualify for the investor visa program by investing only $150,000 instead of the minimum of $500,000 required by a 1990 federal law.

At yesterday's hearing, O'Connor, acting as his own attorney, charged that the INS improperly seized thousands of pages of documents in a raid on Interbank's headquarters in 1998. While the search warrant authorized a search of only two rooms, O'Connor said, documents were seized from two other rooms not specified in the warrant.

O'Connor said the agents made no attempt to correct or amend the search warrant even after discovering the additional rooms. As a result, he said, the evidence should be thrown out. Agents also improperly seized documents that were protected under attorney-client privilege, he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Spencer disputed O'Connor's claims and said the agents acted "reasonably and properly" after discovering there were additional rooms with Interbank records along the same corridor.

Hilton agreed and ruled that the seized documents can be used in the coming trial.

O'Connor also attacked the affidavit filed by INS agent Elizabeth Goyer in support of the 1998 search warrant. He said statements in the affidavit were false and based on the allegations of a former Interbank employee who had been "treated for mental health issues."

O'Connor said the seizure of the Interbank records effectively crippled his company and put about 600 people out of work.

Hilton, however, said he was unconvinced that there was anything false or fraudulent in the search warrant affidavit. The judge also rejected a request for a separate trial on income tax and bankruptcy charges against the defendants.

Hilton said still other issues raised by O'Connor would be addressed during the trial.

The judge deferred action on a final issue - whether a former Interbank executive, who is also an attorney, should be required to testify without any limitations against his former bosses. O'Connor said the former employee's testimony should be barred by attorney-client privilege.

"I'll have to think about that one," said Hilton.

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