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Florida restaurant owner facing federal charges of green card fraud

11:08 AM, Dec 11, 2012   |    comments
A Brevard County restaurant owner is among a group of four people facing federal allegations they purchased fake green cards for 43 illegal immigrants, paying more than $600,000 for the documents to an undercover agent.
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Melbourne, FL (Florida Today) -- A Brevard County restaurant owner is among a group of four people facing federal allegations they purchased fake green cards for 43 illegal immigrants, paying more than $600,000 for the documents to an undercover agent.

According to federal documents, the owners of Thai restaurants -- who are naturalized citizens -- in Brevard and Indian River counties met with the Department of Homeland Security Agent on a near monthly basis between December 2011 and October 2012 to buy fraudulent green cards.

Those charged in the case are: Sarah Tipfun, 59, and Sataporn Panamwan Na Ayuttaya, 44, of Vero Beach; and Chatchai Nakornprai, 47, and Boonting Nuampaton, 49, of Melbourne. Florida Division of Corporation records show Nakornprai is an owner of Siam Orchid Thai and Japanese restaurants in Melbourne and Cocoa Beach.

They face charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and bribery, bribery and visa fraud. The maximum penalty for a bribery conviction is 15 years prison and fine up to $250,000 or three-times the bribe.

Tipfun first met with the undercover agent at her Vero Beach restaurant, where she agreed to pay $20,000 for each fraudulent green card, according to a federal indictment.

The document says she promised to pay about $618,000 for the green cards in several meetings that the other suspects also attended. The indictment says most of the people seeking green cards via the suspects were current or former employees or their friends or family.

In October, the suspects and 25 co-conspirators met with the undercover DHS agent and a Thai law enforcement officer. The indictment says the officers warned the participants the activity was illegal, but they accepted the fraudulent cards anyway.

The four suspects who appear to have organized and led the operation have been tentatively scheduled to go to trial in February. Nakornprai posted the required 10 percent of a $350,000 bond and was released from custody. Nuampaton has also been released, but the others are being held in custody in St. Lucie County.

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