Former Missouri state Rep. Nathan Cooper was sentenced this week to 15 months in a federal prison for his involvement in a truck driver visa fraud scheme. Cooper pleaded guilty in August to illegally obtaining work visas for hundreds of New Zealand immigrants so they could drive for trucking companies in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.
According to the Southeast Missourian, U.S. District Judge Jean C. Hamilton ordered the ex-lawmaker from Cape Girardeau to pay a $6,000 fine and go on supervised released for two years following his prison term.
It could have been worse. In August, when Cooper pleaded guilty, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Reap said Cooper could face up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. Louis reported that Cooper fraudulently obtained H2B temporary visas for a number of trucking companies that were his clients. Cooper, a Republican, is an immigration attorney as well as former state representative.
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, such as 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. In August, 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 described 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, but 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 Missouriannewspaper 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.
Cooper resigned his Missouri House seat Aug. 14. According to the Southeast Missourian, a special election is scheduled for Feb. 5, 2008, pitting Democrat Mike Keefe, former Cape Girardeau postmaster, against Republican Mary Kasten, a former state representative, to fill the remainder of Cooper’s term.
– By Land Line staff