The crime of false pretenses is to misrepresent facts, or use outright lies, to gain another person’s money or property. In April 2016, a Virginia couple, Raju Kosuri and Smriti Jharia, were indicted, along with four co-conspirators, on charges of visa fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States. The six had built a $20 million business selling U.S. visas and fraudulently applying for immigration benefits, which included the forgery of many individuals’ signatures on visa petitions without their knowledge. Some of them face as many as 30 years in prison if convicted.
While state laws vary in defining this crime, the general idea is the same: to be found guilty of false pretense, the prosecutor must show that the individual acquired the property at issue by intentionally misstating a fact. If the individual mistakenly believed the fact was true, false pretenses does not apply.
In Virginia forgery, defined as creating, altering, or using a false document with the intent to defraud or injure someone, is a crime. The code of law defines forgery as a Class 5 felony under “Forging, uttering, etc., other writings” (18.2-172): “Any person who shall obtain, by any false pretense or token, the signature of another person, to any such writing, with intent to defraud any other person, shall be deemed guilty of the forgery thereof, and shall be subject to like punishment.” The forged writing must appear on a document with legal significance, such as a will or a birth certificate. In other words, if you sign your sister’s name on a birthday card for your mother, it does not qualify as a forgery.
Each state has its own laws addressing forgery and false pretenses, but cases are sometimes heard in federal rather than state court, for example, when the case involves forged federal documents, such as work visas. A federal grand jury indicted Kosuri and Jharia and their co-conspirators.
The civil cause of action in cases of forgery and false pretenses is “fraudulent misrepresentation.” With the same elements as criminal false pretences, fraudulent misrepresentation is intended to allow the victim to pursue a remedy. The plaintiff can sue for damages against the thief in a civil court.
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