Feds want $175,000 from two trucking firms

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The U.S. Justice Department wants to seize $175,000 gained by two trucking companies as a result of a visa fraud scheme that sent former Missouri state representative Nathan Cooper to federal prison, the Southeast Missourian of Cape Girardeau reported.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court, the government laid claim to $50,000 from Cal-Ark International Inc. of Little Rock, Ark., and $125,000 from Pullen Brothers Inc. and Coldway Logistics Inc., two companies in Sikeston, Mo., owned by Jerry Pullen. Assistant federal prosecutor Andrew Lay is seeking to seize money the companies already have turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the course of settlement negotiations, according to the Southeast Missourian.

In the complaint filed last week, Lay alleges that Cal-Ark benefited by fraudulently using seasonal work visas to illegally employ 59 foreign truck drivers during 2005, the newspaper reported; in the case of Pullen Brothers and Coldway Logistics, Lay alleges the company illegally employed “approximately 50 truck-driving aliens” during 2005.

Cooper is serving a 15-month term in federal prison in Marion, Ill., for his role in setting up the scheme. Cooper, acting as the attorney for the two companies, sought temporary, seasonal work visas for permanent full-time drivers and set up sham companies to mask the true employers of the drivers. Cooper also paid a $6,000 fine and forfeited $50,000 to cover the estimated gain he received for handling the paperwork to make the alien truck drivers appear legal.

Neither Pullen Brothers nor Cal-Ark face criminal charges, but assistant federal prosecutor Jim Crowe, who prosecuted Cooper, declined to tell the Southeast Missourian why neither company was charged. “We either charge a criminal case or we don’t,” Crowe told the newspaper.

The financial demand from Cal-Ark is significantly lower than the amount sought from Pullen Brothers, a result of a more cooperative attitude by that company during the course of the investigation, Crowe told the Southeast Missourian. “From a cooperation standpoint, they were more open with us,” Crowe told the newspaper. “We react well to that.”