SPECIAL REPORT: Missouri lawmaker pleads guilty to trucker visa fraud

| 8/10/2007

Friday, Aug. 10, 2007 – A Missouri state lawmaker pleaded guilty on Thursday to illegally obtaining work visas for hundreds of New Zealand immigrants so they could drive for trucking companies in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Reap announced Friday that state Rep. Nathan Cooper, R-Cape Girardeau, now faces up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. Sentencing has been set for Oct. 19, 2007, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. Louis, Cooper fraudulently obtained H2B temporary visas for a number of trucking companies that were his clients. Cooper is an immigration attorney as well as state lawmaker.

The H2B program is administered through the state of Missouri, as well as the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of State.

H2B visas are normally used for seasonal workers, like landscapers or resort workers. Trucking companies can get them, too, if the need is for less than one year.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Crowe is chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. Louis. He explained to “Land Line Now” on XM satellite radio that Cooper used false information to fool state and federal agencies into believing the foreign drivers were meeting the “temporary” visa laws, when in fact, they were not so temporary after all. And some were for entities that were not even operating trucking companies.

Crowe described how it worked, using a deal on behalf of a Mabelvale, AR, motor carrier named in the plea agreement as an example.

He said Cooper submitted applications for H2B visas for CalArk Trucking from January to June and for the rest of the year for “another company which was essentially CalArk by another made-up name.”

One of the names used by Cooper was Retail Trucking LLC. The address for Retail Trucking LLC, according to court documents, is that of property in Cape Girardeau, MO, owned by Cooper.

The Southeast Missourian reported Retail Trucking was not an active business and in one case, a driver worked for Pullen Bros. Inc. of Sikeston, MO.

The plea agreement also describes a 2005 application prepared by Cooper asking for a large group of drivers for a company called Speedy Express, an entity admittedly set up by Cooper for the purpose of obtaining visas.

“In our case, all foreign drivers were New Zealanders,” said Crowe, who noted that some drivers had legitimate work visas, many did not.

In a two-year period defined in the case’s time frame, Crowe said trucking companies paid Cooper at least $50,000 for his services.

Aside from Cal Ark, Crowe declined to specifically name other trucking companies that ended up with New Zealand drivers procured by Cooper’s scheme.

The Southeast Missourian newspaper reported that Pullen Brothers Inc. of Sikeston, MO, was one of the companies that got drivers through Cooper.

“As far as others? For anyone in the business, it’s not hard to figure out,” Crowe said.

– By Sandi Soendker, managing editor, and Reed Black, staff writer