Persian-language TV personality gets prison for bribing citizenship agents

In this Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 photo, a young woman holds on to a small American flag during a na
Immigrants sit at a naturalization ceremony. In the bribery case, federal officers approved applications of ineligible immigrants to become naturalized citizens and received $1,000 per immigrant, officials said.
(Jason Hoekema / AP)

A television personality on a popular Persian-language network who acted as an immigration consultant was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison on Thursday for bribing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers, authorities said.

Vida Heravi, 59, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald for paying cash bribes to USCIS officers in exchange for approving applications for citizenship, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

Heravi of Beverly Hills co-hosts a talk show on the Tapesh TV Network. She pleaded guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to bribe public officials employed by USCIS.

The officers approved applications of ineligible immigrants to become naturalized citizens and received $1,000 per immigrant, federal officials said. Heravi paid the officers at least $39,000 on behalf of 43 immigrants.

In court, Heravi said she gave USCIS at least 20 fraudulent medical waivers that falsely showed the immigrants had conditions that exempted them from English-reading and language requirements in the naturalization process.

She then used the waivers to help the officers evade detection and mislead others, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Heravi did not act alone, authorities said.

Mojdeh Erfani, 50, also was charged in the bribery conspiracy. She worked as an immigration consultant, document preparer and translator. Erfani, of Irvine, has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

Court records show that Heravi and Erfani worked as consultants in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The indictment lists two immigration services officers and two immigration consultants as unnamed co-conspirators.

The scheme allegedly began around April 2009 and lasted through July 2013. According to the indictment, Heravi and Erfani would solicit money from applicants seeking to obtain naturalized citizenship. Erfani would pay Heravi about $1,500 — around half of what Erfani charged clients — for help in arranging to an immigration services interview.

A former USCIS officer was sentenced to three years in federal prison for taking bribes from Heravi and others in 2016.

Two other people affiliated with Heravi have also been charged, authorities said.

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9:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the indictment.

This article was originally published at 6:15 p.m.