A Chester County couple have been charged with orchestrating an illegal scheme to obtain hundreds of temporary worker visas, a crime that federal officials say is popping up elsewhere in the nation.

It typically involves Mexican workers, and in this case a key element of the fraud was a Mexican telephone book.

That book is where the West Chester couple, Michael Glah, 48, and his wife, Theresa Klish, 50, found the names to enter on hundreds of falsified visa applications used by area employers, federal officials said yesterday.

Their company, International Personnel Resources, ran an extensive operation. Between 2003 and 2007, the couple helped provide more than 11,000 temporary visas for about 500 client companies looking to fill landscaping, construction, agriculture, and country club jobs.

Most visas were legal, but federal court documents describe how dozens of local companies knowingly participated in the scheme in order to keep employees in this country.

In 2005, 69 companies worked with IPR to obtain 433 illegal visas for their employees, the charges state.

The H-2B temporary visa program has been capped at 66,000 workers nationwide, encouraging a spate of fraudulent schemes to obtain visas, said Edgar Moreno, assistant director of the domestic arm of the Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

There have been three or four other large-scale prosecutions this year, Moreno said, including a case in Arizona that involved 5,000 fraudulent temporary work visas.

Officials had been investigating the West Chester company for more than a year.

Prosecutors charged that the company helped stockpile visas under the fraudulent names, and when a local firm wanted a visa for a local employee who could not qualify under the legal program, IPR provided the fraudulent documents and coached the employee through the process.

IPR charged its clients from $600 to $1,000 per worker.

The investigation into local companies that obtained visas through IPR is continuing, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Goldberg.

Glah's attorney, Robert J. Donatoni, said his client had been cooperating with the federal investigators for more than a year.

"We have had an open dialogue with the U.S. Attorney's Office for 13 months, so we knew that these charges were coming today," Donatoni said.

He noted that the charges were filed in an information, a method that does not require a grand jury, "and generally means there will be at some point in time the entry of a guilty plea."

Also charged were Glah's sister, Mary H. Gillin, 60, of Downingtown, and Emily V. Ford, 29, of West Chester. Both worked at the company.

A Mexican phone book was used to provide the names for each fictitious visa application, and other identifying information was made up, said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia Gibson.

The scheme was complex. To meet federal requirements, ads for fake jobs were placed in newspapers, and various government documents were forged to jack up the number of visas available to IPR, supposedly for its clients.

"They falsely inflated the number of visas needed" by local employers, Gibson said, "so they would have a bank of extra visas to pass around as they saw fit."

If a local firm wanted to get a visa for an otherwise illegal employee, it would contact IPR, which would send the employee back to Mexico. The client would then request the employee with a visa from the IPR "bank." The employees were advised by IPR to lie to U.S. government officials by saying they had never been illegal immigrants.

After the visas were obtained, "IPR chartered buses that brought the aliens from Mexico to West Chester . . . where the aliens were picked up by their former employers and returned to the employment sites," the charges state.

Only a few companies were named, and their roles, either as victim or participant, were not explained. One cited in the charges, the Lancaster Country Club, was provided with false paperwork for two employee visas in 2004, according to court documents.

An executive at the club, identified by a receptionist as the chief financial officer, said the club had not been contacted by federal investigators. He declined to provide his last name, and abruptly ended the telephone conversation.

Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-2797 or ngorenstein@phillynews.com.