Lawyer rips feds for University of Farmington sting

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
Clockwise from left: Phanideep Karnati, Naveen Prathipati, Santosh Reddy Sama and Prem Kumar Rampeesa.

Detroit — The lawyer for a Kentucky man accused of helping recruit hundreds of foreign residents to stay in the U.S. illegally by enrolling in a fake university faulted federal agents for entrapping people.

Homeland Security agents tried to entrap people by creating the fake University of Farmington as part of an undercover sting that led to eight recruiters being indicted and at least 130 students nationwide facing deportation, defense attorney John Brusstar said in an interview Monday.

Brusstar represents Kentucky resident Phanideep Karnati, 35, who was indicted Wednesday alongside seven other accused recruiters. The undercover sting, dubbed "Operation Paper Chase," targeted an immigration fraud scheme that involved at least 600 people who collectively paid recruiters more than $250,000 to stay in the U.S. illegally, according to prosecutors.

Karnati and seven others are accused of recruiting students to enroll in the University of Farmington, but did not know the university was fake and operated by Homeland Security agents, according to the indictments. The Farmington Hills university had no staff, no instructors, no curriculum and no classes, and students knew it was fake, investigators said.

The entrance to the University of Farmington.

"It's unfair for the government to set up something like this to entrap people," Brusstar said.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment.

The lawyer spoke after Karnati was released on $10,000 unsecured bond. Karnati, a father of two young children, is an information technology engineer in Louisville who came to the U.S. a decade ago on an H-1B visa that lets companies temporarily hire foreign nationals.

Karnati was among several people charged in the case who appeared in federal court Monday but was the only defendant released on bond.

Santosh Reddy Sama, 28, of Fremont, California, consented to detention pending trial. So did Avinash Thakkallapally, 28, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Naveen Prathipati, 29, of Dallas, and Aswanth Nune, 26, of Atlanta, who works for a subsidiary of Sprint Corp. in information technology.

How feds pulled off the fake university sting

All stood mute to charges that include visa fraud conspiracy and harboring aliens. The charges could send them to federal prison for up to five years. Executive U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen entered not-guilty pleas on their behalf.

Others charged in the case are:

• Bharath Kakireddy, 29, of Lake Mary, Florida.

• Suresh Reddy Kandala, 31, of Culpeper, Virginia.

• Prem Kumar Rampeesa, 26, of Charlotte, North Carolina. 

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