2 men staged fake robberies in Mass. so ‘victims’ could apply for immigration benefits, feds say

A pair of men are facing federal conspiracy charges after investigators say they staged armed robberies in Massachusetts to help the so-called “victims” apply for and obtain immigration benefits.

Rambhai Patel, 36, and Balwinder Singh, 39, both of New York, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Massachusetts.

Patel and Singh set up and carried out staged armed robberies at an estimated eight convenience stores, liquor stores, and fast food restaurants across the United States, at least four of which occurred in the Bay State, according to charging documents.

“It is alleged that the purpose of the staged robberies was to allow the clerks present to claim that they were victims of a violent crime on an application for U non-immigration status (U Visa),” federal prosecutors wrote in a news release. “A U Visa is available to victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and who have been helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.”

During the staged robberies, prosecutors say the “robber” threatened store clerks or owners with an apparent firearm before taking cash from the register and fleeing, while the interaction was captured on store surveillance video.

In all of the alleged incidents, the clerks or owners waited at least five minutes before calling the police to report the crime to allow the robber ample time to get away, according to investigators.

Patel, who was arrested in Seattle earlier this month, made an initial court appearance in the Western District of Washington and was ordered detained pending trial.

Singh appeared in federal court in Boston on Thursday afternoon. Patel is expected to appear in federal court in Boston at a later date.

The charge of conspiracy to commit visa fraud provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000.

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