A Texas woman who ran a scheme that enabled hundreds of Indian nationals to illegally enter and then remain in the United States was sentenced Wednesday to 3 years in federal prison, officials said.
Hema Patel, 51, operated a company that provided bonds to people who had to post money to be released from immigration court pending future hearings after being caught entering the country, officials said.
“I’m sorry your honor, please forgive me,” Patel said, breaking down in tears, before being sentenced by U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley in Central Islip.
Patel also forfeited $7.2 million in bond money that had been put up as part of the scheme, as well as real estate — her home in McAllen, Texas, and two Texas hotels used to temporarily house some of the people smuggled into the country, officials said
In addition, Patel was ordered to forfeit $400,000 in cash and 11 gold bars that had been seized on Long Island as part of the investigation, officials said.
In a statement, Eastern District U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said Patel ”will now pay the price for placing the safety and security of the residents of our communities at risk.”
Patel, who was born in India and resides in the United States legally, had pleaded guilty in June 2018 to a single count of alien smuggling for financial gain. That charge carries a mandatory minimum of 3 years to up to 10 years in prison. She also faces deportation after serving her sentence.
Patel’s lawyer, Terrence Buckley, said afterward: “We are very grateful that the judge gave her the minimal sentence.”
Patel’s company, HIBS, or Hema Immigration Bonding Services, was located in Raymondville, Texas, about 50 miles north of the Texas-Mexican border at Brownsville. She operated the scheme from April 2015 to October 2016, officials said.
In the scheme, Patel arranged to smuggle people over either the Mexican or Canadian border for a fee of between $28,000 and $60,000, Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Misorek said before Patel’s sentencing.
Of the amount provided by each person smuggled in, $4,000 to $6,000 was Patel’s cut for operating the scheme, Misorek said. The rest of the money from each person created the $7.2 million used for bonds that the judge ordered forfeited.
As part of the scheme, those smuggled were also provided with false identification documents, including fictitious name and addresses of people they would supposedly be living with, according to officials.
In addition, Patel’s fee was greater for using a Canadian smuggling route because it was considered less dangerous and easier to gain entry to the United States than going through Central America and Mexico, Misorek said.
Those persons who were not caught disappeared into the United States. But the hundreds who self-surrendered or were apprehended in their smuggling attempt were required to post a bond in order to be released pending future hearings, Misorek said.
One key to Patel’s scheme was that the people whom she arranged to smuggle understood that they would not reappear in court but forfeit their bond, and also disappear into the United States population, Misorek said.
The prosecutor said Texas court records show that 95 percent of the people for whom Patel posted bond did not show up for additional hearings. Only 5 percent of the people whose bond was provided by similar bonding companies to Patel’s did not appear for further hearings, Misorek said.
The prosecutor said that as part of the continuing investigation, the government also has seized 11 one-ounce gold bars from a house in Hicksville, and $400,000 from a bank in Syosset.
Though Patel operated the scheme from Texas, Misorek would not say why it was prosecuted on Long Island.
In addition to the seizures on Long Island that Misorek mentioned, one of the people working with Patel was identified in court papers as Chandresh Kumar Patel, 31, of Flushing. When he was arrested, agents found $80,000 in cash in his home, officials said.
Chandresh Kumart Patel, who is no relation to Hema Patel, was sentenced to 36 months in prison in federal court in Central Islip in October 2018 after also pleading guilty to alien smuggling for financial gain.