- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A lawyer and a former Mississippi police officer are among 19 people indicted on charges that they committed visa or marriage fraud to allow Indian men to obtain legal status in the United States.

The indictments, unsealed Thursday in Jackson, allege that Ivory Lee Harris, while a Jackson police officer, prepared a series of false crime reports that allowed the men to qualify for nonimmigrant visas available for victims of certain crimes.

A total of 19 people were indicted on charges that they committed visa or marriage fraud to obtain legal status. Others live in Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey and Texas.

Simpson Lloyd Goodman, a lawyer who formerly practiced in Jackson and now lives in Waynesboro, Georgia, is accused of helping the men submit fraudulent immigration papers.

The 45-year-old Harris and six other Mississippi residents under indictment pleaded not guilty Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson in Jackson. They are 32-year-old Sachin G. Patel of Clinton, 27-year-old Sachin K. Patel of Byram, 57-year-old Gopaldas K. Patel of Byram, 34-year-old Brandy N. Edwards of Crystal Springs, 48-year-old Terilynn Rankin of Mendenhall and 27-year-old Javona Rajput Porter of Jackson. All were released on bond except Sachin K. Patel and Gopaldas K. Patel, who remain jailed.

Anderson set July 5 trial dates.

Jackson Police Chief Lee Vance told WJTV-TV that the department fired Harris on Thursday, after about 10 years as an officer.

“It paints a bad picture to the public of an entire profession when officers go bad, so again as soon as this guy can get prosecuted and go to prison, I’ll be that much more happy,” Vance said.

Harris took bribes in exchange for preparing the false reports in 2014 and 2015, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official.

The United States will grant a temporary visa and a path to permanent legal residency to victims of certain crimes, including sexual assault and human trafficking, who suffered substantial physical or mental abuse and who are willing to assist criminal investigations.

Harris faces up to 75 years in prison under the charges, and Goodman faces up to 440 years in prison.

It’s not clear how the 13 male defendants with Indian surnames are linked in the case. The two Indian men accused of the deepest involvement, Sachin G. Patel and Tarunkumar P. Patel of Kingdom City, Missouri, face 310 years and 260 years in prison, respectively. Although Sachin G. Patel spoke English to the judge Thursday, Gopaldas K. Patel spoke only the Indian language Gujarati. Through a translator, he told the judge he’d been in the United States for 21 years. A prosecutor, though, said the man was not present legally.

The four women are accused of taking money to enter into sham marriages, which could also help their spouses gain legal status. Relatives of one of the women shouted that the Indian men were “crooks” as they left the courtroom.

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Online: Press release on immigration charges: https://1.usa.gov/1TJV4Io

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy


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