SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Two tech executives from Cupertino were charged with visa fraud Tuesday in federal court in San Jose.

Elangovan Punniakoti, 52, and Mary Christeena, 47, are accused of having submitted approximately 54 fraudulent H-1B Visa applications.

On Tuesday, the pair appeared in federal court in San Jose to face an indictment charging them with visa fraud and conspiracy to commit visa fraud. According to the indictment, Punniakoti acted as the CEO of Innovate Solutions, Inc. an information technology services company in Santa Clara County while Christeena served as the company’s president. From 2010 through May 2020, the pair allegedly submitted fraudulent H-1B visa applications for foreign workers sponsored by Innovative Solutions.

Punniakoti and Christeena allegedly submitted statements in the application process that the foreign workers would be working offsite at specific end-client companies. The indictment charges that the companies either never received the proposed foreign workers or never intended to receive those workers. The court claims that Punniakoti and Christeena submitted statements that a foreign worker would be working on an internal project for Innovate Solutions despite knowing that no such project existed.  

Once the applications were approved, Punniakoti and Christeena created a pool of H-1B workers that were placed at employment positions with other employers that had actual work. The federal court said the practice provided Innovate Solutions with an unfair and illegal advantage over employment-staffing firms. The indictment alleges the other employers paid more than $2.5 million in fees to Innovate Solutions to cover the cost of the H-1B workers’ wages and salaries in addition to a profit markup for Innovate Solutions.

Both Punniakoti and Christeena are facing one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and six counts of visa fraud with a total maximum prison sentence of 15 years. Currently, both have been released as they await another scheduled federal court appearance on July 25.