6 charged in alleged conspiracy to stage armed robberies to qualify for U.S. visas for crime victims

Six people have been charged in federal court in Chicago with conspiring to stage armed robberies across the city and suburbs to qualify for U.S. immigration visas reserved for crime victims.

The indictment made public Friday alleged that from July 2022 until January the conspirators paid actors to play the “robbers” and set up the phony crimes at locations like Subway restaurants, Dunkin’ donut shops, liquor stores, gas stations and a smoothie shack.

The defendants operated in Chicago as well as the suburbs, including in Lombard, Elmwood Park, St. Charles, Hickory Hills, River Grove, Lake Villa and South Holland, according to the 12-page indictment filed under seal on May 2. Other similar robberies were staged in Tennessee, the indictment alleged.

The goal was to be able to apply for U nonimmigrant status, also known as a “U-visa,” which is set aside under an anti-trafficking law enacted in 2000 for crime victims who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful in an investigation or prosecution, according to the charges.

“During the staged robberies, individuals acting as robbers brandished what appeared to be firearms, approached the purported victims, and demanded money and property,” the indictment stated. “The individuals acting as robbers, on certain occasions, struck purported victims to make the staged robbery appear real. The individuals acting as robbers took items from the purported victims and fled the scene.”

The robberies were reported to local police. Afterwards, some of the purported victims submitted forms to obtain certification “that they were victims of a qualifying crime and had been or would be helpful in the investigation,” the indictment stated.

Some victims also submitted fraudulent U-visa applications to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “predicated upon their alleged status as a robbery victim,” the charges alleged. The indictment does not say whether any visas were actually obtained.

The alleged leaders of the conspiracy, Parth Nayi, 26, of Woodridge, and Kewon Young, 31, of Mansfield, Ohio, were each charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud.

Four others are charged with arranging with Nayi to be the robbery “victims”: Bhikhabhai Patel, 51, of Elizabethtown, Kentucky; Nilesh Patel, 32, of Jackson, Tennessee; Ravinaben Patel, 23, of Racine, Wisconsin, and Rajnikumar Patel, 32, of Jacksonville, Florida.

Ravinaben Patel is also charged with an additional count of making a false statement in a visa application.

The conspiracy charge calls for a maximum of five years in prison, while the maximum sentence for lying on a visa application is 10 years behind bars.

Although the charges have been unsealed, the case was still restricted as of Friday afternoon and it was not immediately apparent whether court dates have been set or if any of the defendants have retained lawyers.