A Bellevue high-tech entrepreneur driven by what he admitted was a “relentless” and “blinding” pursuit of success has been sentenced to seven years and three months in prison for bringing high-tech workers to the U.S. under false pretenses.
Pradyumna Kumar Samal, the former CEO of two companies, Divensi and Azimetry, which supplied workers to tech companies including Microsoft and Amazon, used fraudulent and forged documents to get H-1B visas, according to his plea agreement. The documents made it appear the workers had jobs to go to, when in fact they did not.
Samal pleaded guilty to mail fraud and to failing to pay employment taxes. He agreed to more than $1 million in restitution.
“Based on your time in the U.S., you have basically defrauded everyone you could defraud,” said U.S. District Judge James Robart at the Friday sentencing.
Samal, 50, came to the U.S. from India nearly 20 years ago. This is the second time he has been prosecuted by the feds. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of computer intrusion in a case involving a contract dispute that led Samal’s previous company, Minecode, to disable another firm’s website.
The latest case is on a different scale.
“This was the largest and most sophisticated H-1B visa fraud scheme we have prosecuted in Western Washington,” said U.S. Attorney Brian Moran. Samal’s companies brought more than 250 workers to the U.S. under “phony applications,” the government said.
“The fraud harmed the workers who wound up far from home, essentially ‘benched’ by the company, with no pay and no job,” Moran said. “It harmed foreign workers who legitimately sought, but could not get visas, and it harmed U.S. workers who were excluded from employment opportunities.”
Workers brought to the U.S. by Samal paid a partially refundable “security deposit” of as much as $5,000 regardless of whether they ever got paying jobs, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.
Samal’s lawyers argued the government in recent years has become more harsh in its treatment of H1-B cases. “What would, in years past, have led to visa revocation and possible technical violations litigated in the civil arena are now described by the government as ‘a sophisticated visa-fraud scheme,'” said a defense motion.
Diane Butler, a lawyer who at one time represented Samal, said the government seems to be using this case to send a message of “almost zero tolerance,” telling employers they “need to be very, very serious” when dealing with these visas.
Many tech companies rely on the H-1 B program, targeting highly skilled workers, and have pressed the government to grant more visas. But the administration is moving in the other direction as President Donald Trump seeks to reserve American jobs for American workers.
The investigation of Samal began in 2015, according to Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. That was before Trump took office. And she said, “these types of H-1B schemes have been prosecuted criminally for the last two decades.”
Samal got visas for workers before having job offers in order to have a pool of talent at the ready, according to court documents. It was a “short cut,” Samal said in a letter to the judge, one aimed at growing his business.
“My greed focused only on the prize of success,” he said.
The CEO of one company cited in a visa application emailed Samal after being contacted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“I received this email from the Visa office asking if I signed this,” wrote the CEO. “I did not. I don’t even know who this resource is. This is concerning? Pls advise on how this happened?”
Separate from the criminal case, Samal may face consequences affecting his ability to stay in the U.S., according to documents submitted by his lawyers. He and his wife, who have two teenage children born in this country, both applied for American citizenship five years ago. She became a citizen, but his application was pending as of last year.
His criminal record may now imperil his chances and land him in an immigration detention facility upon release from prison.
This report includes material from The Seattle Times archives.