Nathan Cooper
Nathan Cooper

Cape State Representative Pleads Guilty to Visa Fraud Charges 
By: Christy Hendricks & Associated Press

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - Cape Girardeau State Representative Nathan Cooper pleads guilty to fraud charges involving an illegal scheme to obtain temporary worker visas for his clients in a trucking business.

Cooper, a Republican from Cape Girardeau, is an attorney specializing in immigration law.  Cooper says he will step down and must now give up his law license.

Cooper, 33, issued a prepared statement Thursday regarding the charges.  "The events of earlier today are about my overzealous representation of legal clients in regards to ensuring they had an adequate workforce.  I deeply regret my actions and apologize to the people of Cape Girardeau for how my legal practice has impacted my ability to serve.  In no way was this related to my campaign or to my official office and duties.  My resignation from the Missouri House of Representative will be forthcoming."
Cape Girardeau Republican leaders say the Cooper development has taken them by surprise.  "The most important thing for the committee right now is to find a qualified candidate to represent our district in the Special Election that will be called by the Governor," said Holly Lintner, chairman of the 158th Legislative Committee.

According to the federal government, Cooper took $50,000 in 2004 and 2005 in legal fees from clients in the trucking industry.

Cooper's practice included specialized work with immigration law.  Federal law permits companies facing a seasonal rush to hire immigrant drivers temporarily but only if no American workers can be found. The labor department says Cooper came up with a scheme to skirt the H2B visa program.  H2B visas are commonly used for workers in the hospitality and construction industries.

According to the U.S. attorney's office, prospective clients in the trucking business reported to Cooper that they had chronic shortages of workers.  The trucking companies reportedly did not have seasonal needs required under the H2B visa program to obtain the visas.  Instead, their businesses were steady all year round so they were not appropriate candidates for participation in the H2B visa program.

Cooper admitted to creating fake companies and using the names to apply for visas for other companies, to issuing bogus letters intended to deceive law enforcement as to the immigration status of his client's workers, and to the outright purchase of visas from other contacts to be illegally transferred to his client's workers.

One charge against Cooper alleges he made up a name of a trucking company calling it Retail Trucking LLC and sought a visa for someone named "Vernon Vercoe", a seasonal driver.  In reality, Retail Trucking is not an active business and the visa was actually sought for a driver who worked year round at Pullen Brothers, Inc in Sikeston.  Vernon Vercoe did not exist either.

Cooper also allegedly sought visas for 110 unnamed aliens under the name Speedy Express LLC which turned out to be a false business as well.  

As part of the plea agreement and under federal criminal forfeiture law, Cooper must forfeit the $50,000 in legal proceeds he received in 2004 and 2005.

Cooper pleaded guilty to one felony count of visa fraud and one felony count of making a false statement to the Department of Labor.  He faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and fines up to $500,000.  He also agreed to voluntarily terminate his participation as an agent or representative of any employer with respect to any matter concerning the Department of Labor's Foreign Certification programs.

His sentencing is set for October 19, 2007.

Cooper's attorney, Joel Schwartz issued a prepared statement Thursday. "Nathan Cooper's plea today was not connected to his official or political activities.  Nathan's legal practice involved representing clients by helping them navigate through complicated rules and complex regulations that attorneys themselves disagree upon their meaning.  Nathan crossed the line in his representation of a small number of these clients and will abide by whatever sentence the Court imposes."

Missouri Governor Matt Blunt also issued a statement Thursday saying the state will continue to crack down on illegal immigration.  "I strongly commend United States Attorney Catherine Hanaway and her professional staff for highly committed and vigorous enforcement of the federal laws against immigration fraud. Because of Mr. Cooper's necessary resignation for serious criminal misconduct, I will take the appropriate steps to set a special election to ensure representation for the people of the district."