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Pineville company president gets 4-year prison term

The president of a Pineville-based company has been sentenced to four years in prison for his role in a worker visa fraud scheme, federal prosecutors say.

Phani Raju Bhima Raju, 42, an Indian national who served as president of iFuturistics, was sentenced Thursday in federal court. Federal authorities said Raju pleaded guilty a year ago to federal charges including conspiracy, filing fraudulent immigration documents and money laundering conspiracy.

Prosecutors said iFuturistics received $13.2 million from providing workers for companies around the United States.

Raju also will be subject to deportation, the government said.

Court documents and testimony in Thursday’s sentencing hearing described how Raju and two Charlotte men – Sarma G.M. Pingali, 64, and Bubala Elangovan, 33 – conspired to submit false documents in order to obtain H-1B immigration visas for foreign nationals seeking jobs in the United States.

The H-1B visa allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.

Federal prosecutors said that iFuturistics told the U.S. government that it was hiring the visa holders to work for the company. But, prosecutors said, once the applicants arrived in the United States, they were assigned to work for other companies around the country.

In addition, government officials said, Raju’s company had what authorities said were “lucrative contracts” with staffing agencies to supply workers.

In at least once case, federal officials said, Raju’s company apparently took advantage of a woman seeking a job in the United States. Prosecutors said the woman paid $2,500 to iFuturistics as a security deposit for the visa and was promised a $60,000 job. The woman never got a job and wasn’t paid by Raju’s company, the government said.

Federal documents allege government inspectors visited Raju’s offices in Pineville in November 2009 and claim Raju and the other defendants “attempted to hide their fraudulent activities from law enforcement and immigration agents.”

“In anticipation of the visit ... Raju and his conspirators had set up work stations, moved in furniture and recruited several persons to pretend to be iFuturistics workers for the duration of the inspection visit,” prosecutors said in announcing Thursday’s sentencing.

When federal investigators returned to the office a month later, they said the office space was dark and unoccupied.

Pingali and Elangovan each has pleaded guilty to worker visa fraud and other offenses and face prison terms ranging from 5 to 10 years and fines. They are free on bond while awaiting sentencing.