Immigration judge sought business with visa vendors

Tape recording seized in U.S. visa fraud probe shows apparent conflict

January 10, 2003|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

A federal immigration judge who presides over sensitive visa and deportation cases sought a financial partnership with a Virginia firm whose clients could end up before him in court, according to a tape recording seized in a government raid.

Judge D. Anthony Rogers' conduct appears to violate federal conflict of interest regulations and prompted a memo in March from an investigator for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service expressing exasperation that Rogers remains on the bench in Dallas.

In the taped conversation, the judge bragged that his business relationship with an Arab sheik would generate millions of dollars in business and said that a $20,000 fee for referring each potential client to the Interbank Group was not sufficient. The Herndon, Va., firm helped foreign residents gain permanent U.S. residency under a federal program that required them to invest at least $500,000 in an American business.

"Let me go ahead and just be as abrupt as I can about it. If you think for some reason or other I am going to bring you $30 million worth of potential investors for a $20,000-a-head pop, I'm not interested in doing that," Rogers said. "I'm not that dumb."

The judge said he was interested in "a more coordinated and partnership approach to a relationship with you all."

The Code of Ethics for immigration judges issued by the U.S. Justice Department, which oversees the nation's 220 such jurists through a subdivision, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, bars them from engaging in outside employment activities, "including seeking or negotiating for employment, that conflict with official government duties or responsibilities."

In the taped conversation, Rogers spoke repeatedly of being in partnership with Majed Abdeljaber, a man who had been practicing before him in court without an American law license, records show. In 2000, the two formalized their arrangement when both became officers of a Texas corporation involved with foreign investors with business interests in the United States.

Rogers, an immigration judge since 1993, declined to comment. He remains on the bench, earning $132,636 a year.

`Conflict was obvious'

"We did have several petitions in Texas, and we were concerned," said James A. Geisler, a principal of Interbank.

Geisler, who said he secretly taped the conversation "for our own protection," corroborated its contents in an interview with The Sun.

He said he rebuffed the judge's overture, fearing that he was being set up.

"The conflict was obvious," said his partner, James F. O'Connor. "We were concerned that Rogers would make trouble for us with the INS."

Geisler and O'Connor are now in federal prison after being convicted in 2001 of filing fraudulent visa applications.

A few months after the tape was made, on March 4, 1998, it was seized in a raid by INS investigators. Four years later, in a memo addressed to Joseph R. Greene, the assistant commissioner of the INS, an agency official complained that Rogers was still serving, despite a negative report on the incident by the inspector general of the Department of Justice.

"The DOJ/IG reportedly recommended several months ago that the Executive Office for Immigration Review terminate the judge, who, at last check was still on the bench and scheduled to preside over the hearing of an individual arrested and held in custody as a `special interest case' after September 11," said the memo, which was obtained by The Sun.

Rogers was unaware that his conversation was being taped. Geisler said he had a duplicate of the seized tape locked way in a safe deposit box.

Both O'Connor, an inmate of the federal penitentiary in Cumberland, Md., and Geisler, who is serving his term at the Petersburg Federal Prison Camp in Virginia, said they would be willing to discuss their dealings with Rogers with federal officials. So far, they said, no investigator has spoken with them.

O'Connor and Geisler were sentenced last January to terms of nine years, four months, and 10 years, four months, respectively.

A spokesman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review said the office could not comment on internal personnel matters due to federal privacy laws.

Paul Martin, a spokesman for the Justice Department's inspector general, declined to comment on the recommendation to terminate Rogers.

Investors and visas

Interbank was one of a handful of companies set up to market a little-known investor visa program created by Congress in 1990. Under the program, foreigners were to invest $500,000 in American businesses in return for lifetime U.S. residency rights. But Interbank clients actually invested just $125,000, with the balance accounted for by what federal prosecutors charged was a phony loan.

The judge had been in contact with Interbank before the March 4, 1998, telephone call to his chambers, Geisler and O'Connor said.

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