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Temple priest charged with visa fraud

world Updated: Jun 24, 2010 22:15 IST
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A Hindu temple priest in the US has been arrested on charges of religious visa fraud and allegedly charging up to $ 30,000 to get Indians enter the country as a religious worker.

Sagarsen Haldar, 30, who leads the Gaudiya Vaisnava Society (GVS), a temple located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was arrested at O-Hare International Airport in Chicago over the weekend on his arrival from India.

The arrest follows an investigation by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Records show that Haldar has attempted to sponsor about 33 Indian nationals to enter the country under "R-1" visas, ICE said in a media release.

In many cases, the R-1 applications falsely stated that the individuals were religious workers who planned to work at the GVS temple.

In fact, they had no religious experience, and obtained odd jobs and employment once they arrived in the United States, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The investigation into Haldar was initiated in June 2008 after ICE 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 ICE revealed that Haldar allegedly used the GVS temple as a front for an elaborate religious visa fraud scheme.

In the scheme, Haldar charged Indian nationals $ 30,000 each so they could fraudulently enter the United States. The Indian nationals paid Haldar $ 500 per week.

According to court documents, the Indian nationals admitted they were not priests or religious workers, and they did not perform priestly duties at the GVS temple.

"Religious visas are intended to give priests and religious workers from around the world a chance to continue their ministry in the United States," said Gary Hartwig, ICE special agent in charge in Chicago.

"The defendant is charged with gaming the immigration system for his personal profit.

ICE aggressively investigates anyone who tries to exploit and corrupt America's legal immigration system," Hartwig said.