VERO BEACH — The owner of Bangkok restaurant on 14th Avenue, along with three other people, have been arrested on charges of paying a federal undercover agent $313,000 to get illegal green cards for 28 workers from Thailand, according to recently released federal court records.
On Oct. 11, agents of the federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement converged on Sarah Tipfun's Bangkok restaurant on 14th Avenue and began seizing records.
Court records show that the closing of the restaurant stems from an 11-month undercover investigation, during which a federal agent posed as being willing to illegally provide green cards — permanent resident cards — for a price.
Tipfun is charged with conspiracy to commit fraud from Dec. 22, 2011, to October. Also charged with the offense is her boyfriend, Sataporn Panomwan Na Ayuttaya, and a Melbourne restaurant owner Chatchai Nakornprai and Nakornprai's sister-in-law, Booting Nuampaton.
Ayuttaya owns a fried chicken restaurant in Gifford. . The names of both restaurants weren't identified in the federal government's criminal complaint.
Tipfun is alleged to be the principal conspirator, court documents show. Tipfun handled the money. And she allegedly arranged for the workers to meet the agent at either her home in south Indian River County or at a restaurant in Fort Pierce, also named Bangkok, that she formerly owned.
Some workers were lent money to buy the cards.
During one meeting with the illegal workers, Tipfun told the agent to not count the cash payments in their presence because they had been charged more than the agent asked.
The extra, according to the court documents, went to Tipfun and others who made the arrangements for them to meet with the agent.
When Tipfun first met with the agent, she allegedly agreed to pay $20,000 per card: half up front and half on delivery.
And she offered to introduce the agent to other Thai restaurant owners willing to fraudulently purchase immigration documents for workers, court document shows.
The investigation in November 2011 when a person told a federal agent in Fort Pierce that Tipfun allegedly was violating federal immigration laws and the workers "had no intention of leaving the United States upon the required exit date," court documents state.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.