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Friday, July 23, 2004

AP Wire | 07/23/2004 | 3-year sentence for Internet immigration scam

AP Wire | 07/23/2004 | 3-year sentence for Internet immigration scam
Posted on Fri, Jul. 23, 2004
3-year sentence for Internet immigration scam

Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A millionaire was sentenced Friday to more than three years in federal prison for running an Internet scam that targeted foreigners hoping to win a lottery for immigrant visas.

John Romano pleaded guilty to a mail fraud charge.

He previously reached a $2.2 million settlement on civil charges filed by the Federal Trade Commission over the operations of Global Web Solutions Inc. The Fort Lauderdale company offered Web-based services under the name USA Immigration Services.

His wife, Hodal Nofal, who served as corporate treasurer of USA Immigration Services, was sentenced earlier to six months in prison for obstructing the U.S. mail.

Romano admitted offering help for a fee to people applying for so-called diversity visas, a free State Department program offering about 50,000 visas each year to workers in nations with low immigration rates.

"This case is a red light for fraudulent green-card operators," said FTC chairman Timothy Muris. "We want potential immigrants to know that the federal government is here to protect their rights."

U.S. Attorney Marcos Jimenez said, "This case signals that immigration scam artists will be pursued and shut down."

Under his plea, Romano, 30, acknowledged collecting fees from people who were ineligible for the lottery while promising that their applications would meet U.S. guidelines.

As part of the civil settlement, the couple are losing their island home-office, valued at $1.25 million. Romano also agreed in the criminal case to forfeit a $75,000 Jaguar, a Rolex watch, diamond rings, wedding bands, travelers checks and money orders that were seized when he was arrested last October.

The Fort Lauderdale man has been jailed since his arrest. He will be given credit for time already served on his 37-month sentence.

"I think that under the circumstances it was a fair resolution," said defense attorney Marc Nurik.

The FTC targeted eight Web sites, including Romano's, for trying to capitalize on the visa lottery last year.

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