Hindu religious leader jailed in US for visa fraud

A Hindu leader from India, who had established a temple in Milwaukee city of Wisconsin, has been jailed for 37 months for religious visa fraud.

Washington: A Hindu leader from India, who had established a temple in Milwaukee city of the US state of Wisconsin, has been jailed for 37 months for religious visa fraud and would be deported to his native country after serving his sentence.

A Milwaukee court gave its sentencing order after it found Sagarsen Haldar, aka Gopal Hari Das, who is the founder, president, CEO and spiritual leader of Gaudiya Vaisnava Society (GVS), guilty of fraudulently obtaining religious worker visas - known as `R-1` visas - for Indian nationals in exchange for substantial cash payments.

32-year-old Haldar would be deported to India after serving his sentence.

According to evidence at trial, Haldar conspired to sponsor more than two dozen Indian nationals to enter the US under R-1 visas.

Typically, the R-1 applications falsely stated that the individuals were religious workers from India who planned to be priests and perform religious work at the GVS temple in Milwaukee, the court was told.

In fact, the Indian nationals had no religious training or experience, and they had no intention of being priests or performing religious work once they arrived in the United States, it was told.

Haldar was charged in June 2010 after Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) special agents arrested him at O`Hare International Airport in Chicago as he arrived in the United States from India.

A search of Haldar`s luggage revealed that he was transporting identification documents - including passports and other Indian identification documents - bearing the names and photographs of other Indian nationals.

The investigation into Haldar was initiated in June 2008 after HSI received information from US Citizenship and Immigration Service`s (USCIS) Benefit Fraud Unit that GVS had filed numerous petitions for R-1 religious workers from India.

Subsequent investigation by HSI disclosed that Haldar used the GVS temple as a front for an elaborate religious visa fraud scheme.

In the scheme, Haldar charged Indian nationals as much as USD 30,000 each in exchange for his assistance to fraudulently obtain R-1 visas.

The fraudulent priests typically made substantial cash payments to Haldar and his associates in India, and were indebted to him for the balance once they arrived in the US. They worked at convenience stores in Milwaukee, drove taxi cabs and paid Haldar from what they earned.

"This country`s immigration system is not for sale, and those who think they can exploit the system for personal gain will pay the price for their crimes," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge for HSI Chicago.

"Visa fraud not only undermines the integrity of our legal immigration process, it also poses a significant security vulnerability," he said.