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Government Breaks Up Visa Ring

March 17, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Federal prosecutors said Tuesday they have broken up a ring of forgers who helped Iranians and others win visas and asylum in the United States.

U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas said the group allegedly provided new identities to clients, some of whom included members of the Mujahedeen Khalq, an Iranian opposition group based in Iraq. The group is one of 30 designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department.

The alleged ringleader, Bahram Tabatabai, is one of 29 people who have been arrested in the case. None have been charged with involvement in terrorism.

Tabatabai allegedly represented more than 300 people during asylum interviews before the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Authorities would not say how many successfully gained entry into the country.

David C. Zebley, an agent for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said Tabatabai pretended to be a Farsi translator at the hearings, enabling him to change answers given by clients to the INS officers.

Zebley said Tabatabai used a network of fake document suppliers. The sources allegedly provided documents including birth certificates, titles for automobiles, houses, land and businesses, letters from guarantors, passports, employment records, bank records and university diplomas.

In some cases, Tabatabai created new identities for clients who had criminal records or ties to subversive organizations, agents said. When asylum was requested, they allegedly invented stories of political oppression in their homeland, usually Iran.

Clients, the majority of them Iranians, allegedly were charged a minimum of $2,000 for Tabatabai’s services. Those who got visas had to pay between $8,000 and $12,000, Zebley said.

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