Witness says executive talked of offshore fund

Defendant in visa fraud case bragged he had hidden $5 million

April 05, 2001|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - One of the defendants in an alleged visa fraud scam bragged to an employee that he had $5 million stashed in an offshore bank account and "no one would be able to find it," according to court testimony.

Martin Turk, a former vice president of the Interbank Group, testified yesterday in U.S. District Court that James A. Geisler, one of the principals of the company, confided to him about the secret bank account two years ago.

Turk, who was a vice president at the Herndon-based company, was called as a prosecution witness in the case against Geisler and James F. O'Connor, the head of Interbank.

The two are charged with visa fraud, conspiracy and income tax charges. Interbank was set up to market the investor visa program that allows foreigners to receive permanent U.S. residency status if they invest at least $500,000 in an American business and it produces at least 10 jobs.

Turk said that he went to Geisler in 1998 because he was concerned that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service was turning down the investor visa applications submitted by Interbank on behalf of it clients.

"I was concerned about the program being shut down," Turk said, "and he [Geisler] told me that if it was shut down, he had $5 million in an offshore bank account ... and no one would be able to find it." He said Geisler told him that O'Connor "was in good shape, too."

Turk was one of two prosecution witnesses who delivered some of the most damaging testimony yet in the trial. O'Connor and Geisler also began presenting their own witnesses, who testified that Interbank was in the process of doing what it promised - creating new jobs and businesses - when, they contend, INS officials caused its demise.

"I was hired to create as many jobs as possible," former Interbank employee Gabriel Joseph told U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. Gabriel and another former employee said dozens of workers were hired for an Interbank operation in West Virginia.

Earlier in the day, an accountant who worked for Interbank and prepared Geisler and O'Connor's personal tax returns said he discovered that $1.9 million was missing from escrow accounts that were supposed to be maintained for Interbank clients until they got their visas.

Robert Sampson, the accountant, said, "Our opinion was they spent the $1.9 million."

He said he raised his concerns and Geisler and O'Connor "recognized that they had a problem."

Sampson said he also had questions about the way Interbank routinely wired large sums of money in and out of bank accounts in the Bahamas and whether the investors were really putting up the $500,000 minimum required under the investor visa program.

He said that he later learned that loans that were supposed to make up a part of each investor's $500,000 were backed by annuities and other assets that "were fundamentally worthless."

As for Geisler and O'Connor's personal finances, Sampson said he became concerned that a series of payments to Geisler and O'Connor's family members from an offshore company called Atlantic Forex were not loans, but salaries. He said that after an INS raid on Interbank headquarters, the two decided to list some, but not all, of the loans as income.

He said the balance of the loans, about $400,000 apiece, were paid off through a series of wire transfers that went from another Interbank account to personal accounts set up for Geisler and O'Connor. He described the transactions as "a shell game of debts and credits."

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