In a sentence that may seem light compared to the number of lives ruined, a federal judge gave Yorba Linda’s Ajit Bhargava seven months behind bars for running a phony visa and marriage scam.
The 66-year-old was also ordered by U.S. District Judge George H. Wu in Los Angeles to pay a $40,000 fine.
That compares to the four months in federal prison and $10,000 fines imposed on his 61-year-old wife, Nisha Bhargava, in January. Their daughter, Runjhun Bhargava, completed a special diversion program in October, at which time criminal charges she had pleaded guilty to were dismissed.
The Bhargavas ran since closed Cerritos law office Maple Eagle Immigration Consultants, which was frequented mostly by people from India who wished to remain in the United States. Clients agreed to pay $15,000 to $60,000 to obtain visas, but at least 20 applications that showed immigrants had married low-income U.S. citizens drew the suspicions of federal investigators.
Federal prosecutors allege $2,000 each was paid to drunk, homeless and/or drug-addicted citizens who agreed to marry the foreigners, much like the ploy used in the movie Green Card. Ajit Bhargava pleaded guilty in 2014 to a felony count of conspiracy to commit marriage and visa fraud.
As the Weekly reported in “Family Allegedly Married Victims to Random Homeless People, Drunks and Drug Addicts,” not all who went to Bhargava for help were in on the scam. Two Indian women already married to someone else told us they were unaware Bhargava had married them off to strangers and, they claimed, he not only repeatedly squeezed them for more money amid threats of violence and deportation, but that he continued to do this after he was indicted and his wife and daughter were prosecuted. He even used a different company name.
A federal prosecutor hinted to the Weekly that a delay in sentencing earlier this year may have been due to the new allegations reported here, but the term and fine Judge Wu imposed does not read like equal compensation for the tens of thousands of dollars the victims say they paid Bhargava—nor for the legal limbo he left them in.
Both women told us that despite being victims with children and married to men with legal status to remain in the U.S., they may be forced to leave the country.