Two women from India claim a Yorba Linda man who was helping them get green cards married them off to men they did not know and without their consent or knowledge. The fraudulent transactions allegedly occurred after the women, both of whom were already married, were sent to Ajit Bhargava for immigration assistance. Along with his wife, Nisha; and daughter Runjhun, Bhargava had already been arrested for running a scam marriage ring that charged more than 20 foreigners up to $60,000 so they could marry U.S. citizens who were either homeless, drunks or drug addicts.
Bhargava and his wife and daughter mostly served people from India at Maple Eagle Consultants in Cerritos, also known as MP Eagle Inc. A 75-page affidavit alleges the Bhargavas paid an associate to recruit unemployed and low-income U.S. citizens, who would be paid $2,000 each for the ruse, although many who joined the scam weren’t fully paid. The ring leaders also had “the couples” put on several outfits and take photos in different locations to make it look as if they were in a relationship, according to court papers.
But a federal employee who processes green-card applications noticed a pattern, which sparked an investigation in September 2009. Agents taking a closer look discovered the Bhargavas got sloppy, according to Joseph Macias, who heads Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Orange County. “They were just recycling marriage certificates,” Macias said at the time of the Bhargava family’s arrest in April 2011. “They were even using the same witnesses; a couple of applications had the same U.S. spouse. It got to the point where they didn’t care. They thought they were just kind of above the law.”
Two women allege Ajit Bhargava, identifying himself as “Kumar Sharma,” victimized them in 2013 and early 2014. “Both victims are still very much afraid of Mr. Bhargava, especially now that they know that even his arrest and prosecution did not stop him from engaging in his criminal activities,” Anish Vashistha, the ladies’ lawyer, said. One of the women and the husband of the second separately told the Weekly they fear Bhargava because he allegedly threatened them. As a result, we agreed to withhold their names in their accounts.
The first woman, who resides in the Midwest, had lawful status as an immigrant student in the U.S. as she sought a master’s in business administration from Concordia University in 2007. She later married a man who had been granted asylum in this country. The husband had a green-card application pending in 2013 when his wife was referred to Kumar Sharma, executive director of Immigrant Relief Center in Yorba Linda, for help in attaining a document that would allow her to stay in the States with her husband while she gave birth to her second child.
She claims Sharma/Bhargava told her that he could get her what’s known as “derivative-asylee” status because of her husband, as well as a green-card application. But that’s actually impossible; derivative-asylee status legally cannot be granted to what is termed an “after-acquired” spouse, and therefore, she also would not legally be eligible for a green card.
But the woman did not know that and left her fate in Bhargava’s hands. As she awaited her U.S. documents, Bhargava insisted she pay him $7,000, which drove her into debt. Bhargava offered to reduce her debt in exchange for client referrals. Something did not seem right. Through the Freedom of Information Act, she looked at her own immigration documents and discovered she had been married off to someone she did not know. “My signature was forged,” she says. “My job information was wrong; the tax documents were all wrong.”
When she contacted Bhargava, all he did was harass her for more money, she claims.
A friend of the second woman’s husband referred her to Sharma for help getting a green card based on her employment status in Los Angeles County. Unfortunately, that would likely be impossible because of her inability to prove lawful entry, her lack of valid non-immigrant status, and the unavailability of a visa number. But Sharma/Bhargava assured the woman’s husband that it would not be a problem and quoted a price of $16,800 for his services. The couple put $5,000 down.
“After one week, he called. I went to his office, and he demanded $6,800,” the husband says of Bhargava, who also wanted proof of the wife’s lawful entry. The husband reminded Bhargava that his wife does not have such documentation and asked for a refund, but Bhargava said he already spent it to prepare and file the case.
The couple waited six more months for the green card that never came. They contacted Bhargava, who demanded more money, threatened to have the wife deported and, with his contacts at airports throughout India, arrested upon her return, the husband alleges. The couple later met an immigration officer who told them documents on file show the wife is married to someone else. Having paid Bhargava a total of $22,800 for nothing, the couple ceased contact with him, but he kept trying to reach them for more money.
The encounters with Bhargava left the women in a legal limbo status in this country. They each separately turned to Los Angeles-based Vashistha for help. The lawyer says he’s grasping for ways to keep legitimate couples together in the U.S., but he’s not sure that’s possible. Meanwhile, to keep more of these folks from coming to him, Vashistha informed the U.S. Attorney’s office handling the Bhargava prosecution about the latest allegations.
Bhargava pleaded guilty in November 2014 to a single count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and visa fraud, but his sentencing in federal court in Santa Ana has been delayed several times for health reasons. Asked if the latest known alleged victims will get justice, prosecutor Sandy Leal sent the Weekly a document showing Bhargava’s scheduled March sentencing was postponed to June 20. According to that document, on Jan. 21 and March 11, “the government received information that is potentially relevant to the parties’ sentencing positions in this matter.”
Asked if this move was made to allow the judge to consider the new allegations at sentencing, Leal did not respond. Vashistha, after reading the court document, said it is unclear if his clients’ allegations are the reason for the delay. He also noted neither was interviewed by the prosecution. Leal is legally obligated to forward the reason for the delay to Bhargava’s lawyer. Reached by the Weekly, veteran Southern California defense attorney Victor Sherman did not confirm whether the new allegations are behind the sentencing postponement.
Nisha Bhargava, 61, pleaded guilty Jan. 11 to misdemeanor possession of immigration documents to defraud the United States, which is punishable with a brief jail stay. Runjhun Bhargava, 35, cut a deal to enter a court rehabilitation program.