N.J. H-1B case reads like Sopranos episode

Federal prosecutors say threats arose from Labor Dept. wage probe

A federal case filed in New Jersey this month alleges that an H-1B visa-holding IT employee who was owed some $53,000 in back wages was threatened in meetings at restaurants and in his home if he didn't change his story.

In an effort to turn the tables, the victim captured some of what happened on tape.

Federal prosecutors filed extortion-related charges against two men, Sateesh Yalamanchili, 38, of Wood Dale, Ill., and Trinath Chigurupati, 36, of Monmouth Junction, N.J., both of whom were employees of an Illinois-based IT staffing company that was not identified in the court documents.

The U.S. Department of Labor determined after an investigation that the victim was owed back wages. Complaints from H-1B visa holders about non-payment of wages by IT consulting firms is a fairly routine matter for the Labor Department, but most are civil matters and are handled administratively. A criminal case puts this wage complaint into a different league. The two suspects face 20 years in jail, according to prosecutors.

The victim, who was not identified, met with Yalamanchili and Chigurupati on Jan. 20 in a Middlesex County, N.J. restaurant. The victim was asked at the meeting to recant the statements he made to Labor officials about being owed back wages.

Federal prosecutors said two days later, on Jan. 22, Chigurupati and Yalamanchili arrived unannounced at the victim's residence and ordered him to get into a car. The victim said he thought he would be hurt if he did not comply. After entering the car, Chigurupati told the victim that if he did not recant his statements to DOL he would "take care of" him, said prosecutors.

Two days after that, federal officials said the defendants allegedly entered the victim's residence without permission through a closed, but unlocked door, and "struck him in the chest and shoulders to awaken him."

Later that day, the victim again met the defendants at a restaurant where he was offered $5,000 to recant his statements. He was also told that if he didn't accept the offer he would lose his H-1B status. More threats were allegedly made.

But the next time the man met Chigurupati and Yalamanchili, on Feb. 4, he had audio and video equipment and recorded the meeting. During the meeting, the victim was again told that if he recanted his statements he would be paid and his H-1B visa wouldn't be revoked.

The IT consulting company, which is based in Rolling Meadows, Ill., was being investigated by the Department of Labor and owes some $142,000 in back wages to four of its employees, including the money owed to the man in this case. A New Jersey newspaper, the Star-Ledger, identified the company as ComData Consulting Inc.

A message left at the company was not returned. Attorneys representing the two men charged in this case were not immediately available for comment.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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