Hilton Head Basketball Academy Founder Facing Federal Visa Fraud Charges

The founder of the new Hilton Head Basketball Academy has been indicted on federal visa fraud charges, according to online arrest records and U.S. District Court documents.

Mike Rawson, 48, and his wife, Brenda Rawson, were booked Oct. 31 on federal fraud charges, according to the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office online jail log. According to a complaint and affidavit for an arrest warrant filed in the U.S. District Court for South Carolina, the Rawsons are accused of making false statements in their applications for United States non-immigrant visas dating to 2013. If convicted, the Rawsons could face a penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Rawson established Hilton Head Basketball Academy in August and moved to the Lowcountry after his 22FT Basketball Academy was denied a city permit to house students in a converted barn on his Anderson, S.C., property, which was found to not meet code for living conditions after Rawson had housed students there for nearly a year, according to court records.

HHBA players currently are enrolled at Heritage Academy and playing under the “Heritage” name, but head of school Gloria Shoemaker said the school did not enter into any legal agreement with Rawson or HHBA and will not do so. Shoemaker declined to comment on Rawson’s legal troubles, saying only “the students attending school are wonderful and talented young men.”

Cody Hopkins, who was hired as a coach for 22FT in April, made the move as well and has been acting as the head coach for the program, but Hopkins said he never signed on as a partner in Rawson’s Hilton Head Basketball Academy LLC. Hopkins was not named in the complaint and said he had no knowledge of the situation prior to Rawson’s arrest.

Hopkins said he will have no connection to Rawson or HHBA going forward and has established his own company – Hilton Head Sports LLC – in hopes of working with Shoemaker and Heritage Academy chairman Andrew Summers to make good on promises that his players will compete for a scholastic team this season.

“Upon learning of Mr. Rawson’s legal troubles, I immediately dissolved any relationships and turned my attention to forming a new entity – HHI Sports LLC – in order to help the young men currently enrolled at Heritage Academy with their goals of competing nationally and having opportunities to earn scholarships,” Hopkins said in an email.

According to the indictment, a federal grand jury charged that the Rawsons committed visa fraud in order to obtain L-1 visas and establish 22FT in the United States, including forging the signature of Siebe Hoekstra and falsely stating Hoekstra’s home address as the business address for 22FT’s affiliate in The Netherlands. The indictment claims 22FT had no operational office in The Netherlands and the U.S. affiliate was not doing any business with the Dutch affiliate, which would be a violation of the L-1 visa agreement.

According to the complaint, the Department of Homeland Security began investigating the Rawsons in March after discovering that Mumin Tunc, a Turkish national playing with 22FT, had violated the terms of his student visa. Tunc told officials he had not been attending school at Anderson Christian Academy and was only playing basketball for 22FT, as well as being housed by 22FT and Mike Rawson. Through the investigation, the report states, ”it was revealed that multiple students failed to attend class, were utilizing online courses in violation of their visas, and transferred schools repeatedly without being properly sponsored on an updated Form I-20.”

This led investigators to take a closer look at 22FT and the Rawsons, at which point they found what they allege to be numerous instances of fraudulent claims.

Mike Rawson, a citizen of the United Kingdom, applied in June 2013 to enter the U.S. on an L-1A visa sponsored by 22FT Basketball Academy in Greenville, and the visa was issued on Aug. 30, 2013. The terms of the L-1A visa require that the employer sponsoring the visa holder have a qualifying relationship with an overseas company that is established for at least three years in a foreign country, and the company must remain operational while the visa holder conducts his or her managerial duties in the U.S. branch.

According to the complaint, the original incarnation of the 22FT in The Netherlands was rendered inoperable when Rawson in fact immigrated to the U.S. in January 2013, five months prior to applying for the L-1A visa. The complaint charges Rawson “made further false statements in his visa application asserting that he was qualified for an L-1 visa while knowing the necessary parent company was no longer in existence,” including listing a false business address for 22FT. An agent traveled to all known addresses in The Netherlands that 22FT claimed as its business addresses, according to the document, and did not find any operational businesses at any of the addresses.

Subsequently, the complaint alleges Brenda Rawson, a citizen of The Netherlands, made false statements in her application for an L-2 visa, which is granted to the spouse of an L-1 visa holder. Brenda Rawson was listed as a senior consultant for 22FT in her application.

Investigators also discovered that Mike Rawson first attempted to establish 22FT in the U.S. while on a tourist visa and that the Rawsons were denied B-1 and B-2 visas from the U.S. Consulate in Toronto, Canada, because it was believed they intended to violate the terms and immigrate to the U.S. while operating a business.

Mike and Brenda Rawson each were released on $50,000 bond and ordered to house arrest, according to court documents, and both waived their right to attend their arraignment Thursday. Mike Rawson’s attorney, Matt Kappel of Greenville, has not responded to an email seeking comment.

Rawson Complaint (PDF)
Rawson Indictment (PDF)

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