A man accused of helping foreign nationals enter the country in exchange for cash narrowly avoided preparing for his upcoming trial behind bars after prosecutors found he’d tried to contact multiple government witnesses, including one who owns a business in Mobile.

As Lagniappe previously reported, David J. Jimenez of Miami is one of the known defendants in a visa fraud conspiracy federal prosecutors believe led to dozens of Chinese individuals entering the United States on illegitimate visas set up by businesses in Alabama and Florida.

Fairhope resident Christopher Allen Dean was also indicted in the conspiracy and pleaded guilty in November to charges similar to those Jimenez has chosen to fight in court. Their role in the alleged scheme was to recruit business owners to file fraudulent visas for Chinese nationals in exchange for cash — generating $4.3 million between 2011 and 2016.

Court records have mentioned companies and bank accounts tied to Mobile, Daphne, Saraland, Orange Beach, Pensacola and Brewton, but recent filings indicate a total of 35 businesses filed falsified immigration petitions related to the indictment.

So far, the only area businesses Lagniappe has been able to identify are Dean’s company, Eco Strong Solutions LLC, and McClure Electric — a Mobile-based business that operated for less than three months in 2010 before it was dissolved.

According to state business records, McClure Electric is owned by Katherine McClure, 64, of Mobile. While motions in the criminal case suggest Jimenez purchased the business from McClure in 2010, a spokesperson with the Alabama Secretary of State’s office said they “couldn’t identify any records that were close to” that.

Either way, prosecutors secured McClure as a witness for their case before Jimenez was even indicted, which made text messages he sent her about the case on the night of his arraignment seem closer to witness tampering than an attempt to reach out to a former business associate.

What happens in Miami
According to a motion filed by prosecutors in Mobile, on Dec. 12, 2016 — just days after his initial appearance in court — Jimenez attempted to make contact with the co-owners of a Miami-based business called Omni Consultants.

The co-owners filed at least one of the immigration petitions mentioned in Jimenez’s indictment, and according to the government “will be called” as witnesses in his trial. After failing to reach those witnesses twice, prosecutors say Jimenez called to confirm the business’ address and then sent three men there personally.

“Around 11 a.m., nearly simultaneous to the ending of the call, three Chinese men, dressed in black suits and carrying suitcases, walked into [the] business,” the motion reads. “The Chinese men stated they had an appointment with one of the owners of [the] business — the same person Jimenez had earlier asked to speak to.”

One of the men reportedly said, “David is coming here right now” before employees were able to call security. The men were escorted off the premises, but prosecutors later said the women were “afraid to such a degree” that they “were going to call the police.”

The incident likely violated Jimenez’s pretrial agreement to “avoid any contact” with “witnesses or victims” in the case. After a phone conversation with Jimenez’s lawyer, though, Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Dobbins said she was assured “no further conduct of this type would occur.”

With that, Dobbins agreed not to seek a revocation of Jimenez’s bond, but to have it on the record she brought up the issue at his Dec. 21 arraignment before U.S. District Judge Katherine Nelson in Mobile. At their request, Jimenez and his team were also given a list of seven “unindicted co-conspirators” so there would be no more confusion.

However, that didn’t stop Jimenez from sending a series of text messages to McClure the very same evening — an exchange that included brief discussions about his charges, the pair’s business history and a link to a Dec. 21 Lagniappe article mentioning Jimenez’s indictment.

Bold texting
When McClure notified prosecutors of Jimenez’s attempts to contact her, a motion was quickly filed to revoke his bond. A hearing on that matter was held in Mobile in January, where prosecutors came in seeking to put Jimenez behind bars.

“I knew something like this was going to happen because he doesn’t abide by the rules,” Dobbins told the court. “He contacted [McClure], I submit to you, in hopes of being able to determine or schmooze her in such a way that she would not continue to be a witness.”

However, attorneys for Jimenez — including two added from Miami — contended the conditions of his pretrial release had been vague because there was no way of knowing who he couldn’t talk to, as the government hadn’t provided a list of victims and witnesses.

Dobbins rejected that notion, though, adding that a list of witnesses wouldn’t normally have been turned over so early in the course of a criminal trial. She also claimed Jimenez should have known better than to contact someone multiple times with whom he knew the government had discussed his case.

Craig Underwood, a special agent with IRS Criminal Investigations, read excerpts from messages Jimenez exchanged with McClure on Dec. 21, 2016, including a portion in which Jimenez appears to suggest that God supported the way he ran his businesses.

“[Jimenez] said: ‘The business belongs to Him. I am His child right here where He wants me. He will let the world know He anointed me,’” Underwood’s testimony reads. “Then Ms. McClure said: ‘I’m sorry, but if he wanted you to do this, it would have been for the right reason and for free, not $250,000 a person. You’re talking to the wrong person because this is why I no longer work electrical. I could be their best witness.’”

Despite Jimenez contacting at least two witnesses the government plans to call at trial, Nelson declined to order him to prison. However, she did issue a stern warning, and said a U.S. Marshal in the back of the courtroom was “prepared to take you under arrest and lock you up.”

After a pretrial conference next month, Jimenez’s trial is scheduled to start in May.

Dention hearing transcript