An appeals court on Wednesday upheld the federal government’s seizure of more than $1 million that was part of a visa fraud case in Mobile.
Federal prosecutors obtained convictions against a Fairhope man and three others who devised a scheme to take money from Chinese businessmen who wanted lawful residency in the United States. The defendants filed fraudulent paperwork under the EB-1C visa program. That is designed to benefit American companies by helping them attract foreign investment and puts the investors on a fast track for green cards and permanent residency.
But the defendants convicted in federal court submitted fraudulent paperwork purporting that the Chinese investors had entered joint ventures joint ventures with American businesses, according to court records. But owners of those businesses, including Diamonds Exclusive Men’s Club on Airport Boulevard in Mobile, testified they had nothing to do with the immigration documents.
None of the Chinese citizens ever faced criminal charges, but 14 of them challenged the seizure of bank accounts in a civil proceeding.
A jury in 2019 ruled in favor of five of the Chinese citizens but against the others. Four of those five appeared in person and testified at the trial.
Five of the losing litigants – Dai Ze, Hong Wei, Hongtu Chen, Linlin Guo and Min Yang –appealed. They argued that it was a violation of their constitutional rights since they were not permitted into the United States to make their case in person. But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that the government can keep the more $1.4 million.
Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Bill Pryor cited a Supreme Court case involving Hawaii’s challenge of then-President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Foreigners, Pryor wrote, have no constitutional right to enter the United States.
“Accepting the Chinese nationals’ argument that due process mandated their entry into the United States would require us to disobey these unequivocal and broad holdings,” he wrote.
Pryor also noted that the case was civil, not criminal.
“The district court afforded the Chinese nationals due process,” he wrote. “Each Chinese national was represented by an attorney throughout the civil-forfeiture proceedings, including at trial.”