An immigration attorney has been indicted by New Jersey federal prosecutors for allegedly charging two international companies hundreds of thousands of dollars for advertisements related to permanent residency applications that he never placed.

Marijan Cvjeticanin, 49, of St. James, N.Y., was arrested yesterday and charged with one count of mail fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.

Cvjeticanin made his initial appearance yesterday in federal court in Newark before U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Cvjeticanin allegedly committed the fraud while working at New York immigration law firm Wildes & Weinberg from 1996 through 2012. He was a paralegal for most of his time at the firm, though he was admitted as an attorney in New York in 2010, according to the complaint.

A large part of the firm’s business consisted of helping immigrants working in the United States under temporary H-1B visas apply for permanent residency. For an H-1B visa holder to get permanent residency, the visa holder’s employer must demonstrate that there are no qualified U.S. citizens who can fill the applicant’s job. That requires, among other things, that the employer advertise for the job in the relevant geographic area.

Wildes & Weinberg used a third-party advertising agency to place those ads, according to the complaint. At some point before 2010, Cvjeticanin caused the firm to start using a company called Flowerson Advertising, the complaint alleges. Unbeknownst to the firm, Cvjeticanin owned Flowerson. The firm terminated Cvjeticanin in September 2012 after learning of this undisclosed conflict of interest, according to the complaint.

Documents related to the ads supposedly placed by Flowerson revealed that Flowerson billed two companies $579,000 between 2010 and September 2012, but never placed most of the ads, according to the complaint. Instead, Cvjeticanin allegedly kept the proceeds for himself.

The complaint did not identify the two companies.

"Through this scheme, Cvjeticanin bilked the Companies for hundreds of thousands of dollars for services that were never performed," the complaint states. "In addition to the monetary losses to the Companies, the scheme exposed the permanent residency applicants of the Companies to numerous and ongoing immigration consequences."

In March 2013, according to the complaint, Cvjeticanin had a consensually recorded conversation with a person at Wildes & Weinberg. In that conversation, Cvjeticanin tried to justify his actions, saying the money he billed the companies was not "the cost of the exact newspaper ad."

Instead, he said, "If we need to use it, we use it. If not, this is the agency’s profit."

At the meeting Cvjeticanin allegedly said it didn’t matter that he never placed the ads because the companies got their permanent residency applications approved.

He also said that if the companies found out that the ads were not placed and sued, he could call a contact at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and have the companies’ visa petitions revoked.

"They’re dead meat," he allegedly said.

Carol Gillen of the public defender’s office represented Cvjeticanin at yesterday’s appearance. The court released him on a $250,000 bond secured by a condo he owns in New York City.

Cvjeticanin could not be reached for comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Grippo of the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office’s general crimes unit is handling the case for the prosecution.

Steven Weinberg, managing partner of Wildes & Weinberg, said he could not comment because the investigation was ongoing.