ALEXANDRIA, Va. — An Israeli national pleaded guilty in a conspiracy to launder money and facilitate the illegal entry, harboring and transportation of noncitizens in the United States for the purpose of their employment following an investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, D.C., the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division and the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General for the National Capital Region. Shai Cohen, 39, of Israel entered the guilty plea Nov. 7 at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
“Shai Cohen manipulated the U.S. legal system to sneak noncitizens into this country for his own financial gain,” said HSI Washington, D.C. Special Agent in Charge Derek W. Gordon. “He hired an unlawfully present workforce for jobs that could have gone to the residents our neighborhoods. HSI Washington, D.C. will continue to enforce the laws of our great nation and protect the residents of our Washington, D.C. area communities”
According to the investigation, Cohen admitted to organizing and working with others to recruit and facilitate the illegal entry of Israeli citizens into the United States under false pretenses.
From approximately 2011 through December 2013, Cohen and his co-conspirators helped noncitizens fraudulently obtain tourist and visitor visas by misrepresenting the true purpose of their travel to the United States, which was illegal employment. Cohen and his co-conspirators also helped the noncitizens travel to the United States.
Upon arrival, the noncitizens were unlawfully employed at various kiosks owned and operated by Cohen and his co-conspirators in malls in Virginia and Maryland. The terms of their visitor visas did not legally allow them to work.
The noncitizens who engaged in illegal employment were primarily compensated for their work by under-the-table cash payments or the transfer of money to stored value payment cards, rather than through a legitimate payroll system.
Cohen also provided for the noncitizens’ housing and transportation to and from work. He and his co-conspirators also made foreign and domestic financial transactions in furtherance of and to promote their criminal scheme.
Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to launder money, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 19, 2024.
Cohen was arrested in Israel pursuant to a U.S. request for his extradition. In August, he was extradited to the Eastern District of Virginia.
This investigation was conducted with significant assistance from the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, which helped secure Cohen’s arrest and extradition from Israel. The government of Israel also significantly contributed to the investigation by making Cohen’s arrest and extradition possible.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.