Va. men sentenced to prison in million-dollar visa fraud

2 get about 10 years, are ordered to repay immigrants they cheated

January 12, 2002|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Declaring that they cheated hundreds of people, depriving many of their life's savings, a federal judge sentenced the two masterminds of a multimillion-dollar visa fraud yesterday to serve about a decade each in prison.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III also ordered James F. O'Connor and James A Geisler, both Virginia residents, to make restitution of nearly $17.6 million, although he acknowledged that it was unlikely more than a fraction of that amount will ever be repaid.

O'Connor, 44, who had a previous conviction for fraud, was sentenced to 10 years and four months; Geisler was given a sentence of nine years and four months. Both were ordered to begin making restitution payments of $500 per month upon their release from prison.

Through a Herndon company called the Interbank Group, Geisler and O'Connor marketed a 10-year-old program under which foreign residents can get permanent U.S. residency by investing at least $500,000 in an American business.

Prosecutors charged that Interbank told investors they could qualify by investing as little as $100,000.

Testimony during the trial showed that O'Connor and Geisler attempted to fool the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service into thinking that the proper amount had been invested by recycling the money through offshore bank accounts, creating "sham loans" and generating false bank statements.

Ultimately, nearly all of the 300 Interbank investors were denied visas and could now face deportation. Several testified for the prosecution during the trial and recounted how they had been promised that their investments would be protected and kept in separate bank accounts, a promise that O'Connor admitted was never kept.

Because the repayments are likely to be so small compared with the victims' losses, Ellis and prosecutors agreed that the oldest victims should be paid back first. Ellis said he will determine later what assets of the two defendants will be allotted to a restitution fund.

Ellis imposed the sentences after reading from the letters of the victims of the visa fraud scheme.

"Let's face it," one of the victims wrote, "We were robbed." He added that the only likely consequence for him and the other victims was deportation from the United States.

Prosecutors had sought sentences that would have kept the two in prison nearly three times as long, but Ellis said the lengthier sentences were intended for those committing more serious crimes, such as drug dealers and members of organized crime.

"There were an awful lot of victims, and some had their lives ruined," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dana Boente yesterday in urging Ellis to impose the maximum possible sentence.

"There was untold suffering. They [the defendants] looked upon this as a money machine."

After a nonjury trial, Ellis found Geisler and O'Connor guilty in August on all 61 counts of a criminal indictment. The charges against them ranged from visa fraud to mail and wire fraud, income tax violations and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Geisler was also convicted of bankruptcy fraud.

In a last-minute plea for mercy addressed to Ellis, Geisler detailed his attempt at suicide late last year.

"Over a two-hour period I injected myself with lethal amounts of potassium chloride, raw potassium and atropine," Geisler wrote in a letter dated this week.

"When I awoke the next morning ... I could only conclude that my time was not up."

Geisler disclosed that just before his suicide attempt he had written a "harsh" letter" to the judge "because of my honest expectation that I would never have to face you again. ... Now I find myself with the daunting task of seeking your mercy."

"I'm glad to see that you have reached the view that you cannot escape responsibility by harming yourself," Ellis told Geisler yesterday.

During the trial last spring, Geisler and O'Connor acted as their own attorneys through much of the proceedings, though they were assisted by two court-appointed lawyers. At one point, with Ellis' permission, O'Connor questioned himself, first posing the questions and then answering them from the witness chair.

In another memorable moment, a former Interbank accountant told the court he couldn't remember any details of the company financial records. Nor could he say with certainty what day it was or why he was even in the courtroom.

Geisler and O'Connor spoke only briefly yesterday, both asking the judge for leniency. They also served notice that they intend to appeal the verdicts.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.