Two New York men were charged in an alleged scheme to stage robberies so that “victims” could apply for immigration benefits, the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Joshua Levy said in a press release Thursday.
Rambhai Patel, 36, and Balwinder Singh, 39, were arrested in December in New York and charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit visa fraud.
Starting March 2023, Patel and his co-conspirators — who sometimes included Singh, Levy’s office said — allegedly staged armed robberies of at least nine convenience stores and fast-food restaurants across the U.S., including five in Massachusetts, officials said.
During the robberies, the supposed robber would threaten store clerks or owners with an “apparent firearm” before stealing cash and leaving. The clerks would allegedly wait five or more minutes to allow the robber to escape before calling police, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
The incidents were recorded on surveillance video, the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a statement.
“The ‘victims’ are alleged to have each paid Patel to participate in the scheme,” the statement said. “One purported victim allegedly paid $20,000 to participate as a victim in one of the staged armed robberies. In turn, Patel allegedly paid the store owners for the use of their stores for the staged robbery.”
Allegedly, the purpose of the robberies was to allow store clerks to apply for U nonimmigration visas (U Visas), which are reserved for victims of certain crimes who are helpful to law enforcement in the investigation of criminal activity, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
At least two “victims” reportedly submitted U Visa applications based on being victims of the fake robberies, officials said.
Massachusetts State Police, the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, and the Hingham, Marshfield, Randolph, Weymouth, and Worcester police departments, among other agencies, helped with the investigation, Levy’s offie said.
If convicted, Patel and Singh could face up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.
Patel remains detained until his trial, and Singh was released on conditions after an initial appearance in late December.
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