VERO BEACH — An undercover investigator posing as a corrupt immigration agent led to the arrests of four people at the Vero Beach Bangkok restaurant and helped foil an elaborate scheme where undocumented workers from Thailand were paying as much as $30,000 to obtain illegal green cards.
Agents arrested Bangkok owner Sarah Tipfun and the others after they raided the popular 14th Avenue restaurant last week.
Arraignments for Tipfun, Sataporn Panomwan Na Ayuttaya, Chatchair Nakornpral and Boonting Naumpaton are set for Oct. 26 at the Federal Court House in Fort Pierce. The foursome was arrested on conspiracy and fraud charges.
The investigation began nearly a year ago after an informer tipped off a Homeland Security agent that Tipfun, a naturalized citizen, had been approaching US citizens about marrying illegal immigrants from Thailand.
The informer told investigators that the Thai nationals had fraudulently obtained valid work visas that had allowed them to come to the US to work for Tipfun and that the nationals had no intention of leaving when their time period to be in the US expired.
With the informer teamed up with an undercover agent, they learned of the alleged scheme that paid Tipfun and her boyfriend, Panomwan Na Ayuttaya, handsomely when the undocumented workers got their illegally obtained green cards, according to court documents.
Federal court records say that from January through July, Tipfun arranged for 28 Thai nationals to meet with the undercover agent either at Tipfun’s Vero Beach home or the Bangkok in Fort Pierce in an attempt to buy illegal green cards.
Records say Tipfun and the aliens paid the informer $313,000 as either a down payment or for complete payment of the illegal green cards. In most cases, Tipfun acted as the go between and was also paid for her role.