- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

A former acrobat has pleaded guilty to charges of helping as many as 870 foreign nationals enter the United States illegally and making false statements in visa applications, the Justice Department said.

Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher, who heads the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said Kristo Ivanov, 70, of Orlando, Fla., entered the plea Thursday before U.S. District Judge Donald P. Dietrich in federal court in Orlando.

In his plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Ivanov admitted that from 2001 to February 2006, he helped the illegal aliens enter or remain in the United States through fraudulent means, preparing visa applications falsely saying they were circus performers coming to work in Florida.

Mrs. Fisher said none of the aliens had been hired by any of the circuses listed in the visa applications, adding that they were “simply a means for the aliens to enter or remain in the United States.” She said Ivanov charged each alien from $500 to $2,500 to prepare the applications.

“Ivanov admits to helping hundreds of illegal aliens into the United States under false pretenses so that he could benefit financially,” Mrs. Fisher said. “We will not allow this type of exploitation of our immigration system, which poses a risk to the security of our nation.”

A Bulgarian native who is now a naturalized American citizen, Ivanov came to the United States in 1980 as an acrobat for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He has owned and operated a circus booking agency, Magic Star Entertainment, of Lake Mary, Fla., for more than five years and used that agency to sponsor illegal aliens to enter or remain in this country.

As part of his plea agreement, Ivanov agreed to forfeit $600,000 he earned in smuggling fees.

Sentencing is scheduled for next month.

“Businesses who knowingly sponsor foreign nationals under false pretenses should know that you will be caught,” said FBI special agent in charge Robert Weber, who heads the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Investigations in Tampa, Fla.

“The federal government will not tolerate the exploitation of our nation’s visa system.”

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