An alleged scheme to arrange fake marriages between U.S. citizens and immigrants has landed 50 people behind bars in Texas.
Nearly 100 people are facing federal charges in the marriage fraud scheme after a federal grand jury returned a 206-count indictment to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, KHOU-TV reported.
Organizers involved in the Houston-based venture which reportedly began around August 2013, allegedly charged $50,000 to $70,000 to arrange the fraudulent marriage, even providing a sham wedding photo album to lend credence to the scheme, according to the Department of Justice.
Ashley Yen Nguyen, a.k.a. Duyen, was named as the head of the southwest Houston-based organization. The 53-year-old also allegedly had ties across the state as well as in Vietnam.
Duyen and others involved reportedly recruited U.S. citizens for the sham marriages while charging “tens of thousands of dollars” from foreigners wishing to come to the U.S. and obtain full lawful permanent resident status, according to KHOU. The payments were allegedly prorated and beneficiaries paid as they procured each immigration benefit in the process as Duyen and other organizers received a portion of the proceeds.
“The criminal organization also prepares, and provides to the petitioner and beneficiary spouse, fake wedding albums containing photographs to make it appear as if they had a wedding ceremony above and beyond a marriage at a courthouse,” the indictment stated.
The U.S. citizens who participated also received a portion of the payments from the clients as the organization allegedly submitted fraudulent tax, utility and employment information to immigration authorities in order to procure approval of the false immigration forms.
“A sham marriage is a marriage that is entered into for the primary purpose of circumventing immigration laws. The indictment alleges the marriages involved in this conspiracy were shams because the spouses did not live together and did not intend to do so, contrary to documents and statements they submitted to USCIS,” the DOJ said in a statement.
“The spouses only met briefly, usually immediately before they obtained their marriage license, or not at all, according to the charges. The spouses allegedly entered into the marriage pursuant to a financial arrangement for the primary purpose of circumventing U.S. immigration laws,” the statement continued.
Trang Le Nguyen aka Nguyen Le Thien Trang, a 45-year-old attorney in Pearland, Texas, was also indicted for “obstructing and impeding the due administration of justice and tampering with a witness, victim or informant,” according to KHOU.
According to KTRK:
The charges include 47 counts of marriage fraud, 50 counts of mail fraud, 51 counts of immigration fraud, 51 counts of false statements under oath in matter relating to registry of aliens and one count each of conspiracy to engage in marriage fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, conspiracy to make false statements under oath in matter relating to registry of aliens, unlawful procurement of naturalization, obstructing and impeding the due administration of justice and tampering with a witness, victim or informant.
“By working together with our partners from various federal law enforcement agencies we have sent a resounding message that we are united in our effort to disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations that seek to circumvent U.S. law by fraudulent means,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson said, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The indictment remains sealed as not all of those charged are in custody.
The collaborators could face between five and 20 years in prison if they are convicted in federal court, as mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud – as well as tampering with a witness – can carry potential 20-year prison sentences.