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3 Florida Brothers Guilty of Marriage and Immigration Fraud

A federal jury found three Jacksonville brothers guilty of marriage fraud charges Thursday, February 7, 2013. The guilty verdicts resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Federal Air Marshal Service, the FBI, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Mowafak “Mike” Shahla, 43, Antoun “Tony” Chahla, 42, and Fadi Chahla, 40, were found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to enter into marriages for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws, making false statements to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and unlawfully attempting to procure naturalization and citizenship.

According to testimony and evidence presented at trial, the brothers are Syrian citizens who recruited three U.S. citizens – two sisters and their sister-in-law – to enter into fraudulent marriages. The men entered into the marriages to become legal permanent residents, and then, citizens of the United States.

Shahla, Antoun Chahla and Fadi Chahla entered into the fraudulent marriages in 1999, 2002 and 2005, respectively. They made cash payments to the women for participating in the fraudulent marriages. Some of those payments were made on a monthly basis. During part of the conspiracy, payments totaling $3,000 were made to one of the women in exchange for her traveling to Syria on two occasions. The first trip to Syria was to become engaged to Fadi Chahla, and the second trip was to enter into a fraudulent marriage with him.

Shahla, Antoun Chahla and Fadi Chahla each made false statements in their applications for legal immigration status and citizenship. They also lied to immigration officers when they were interviewed about their fraudulent marriages. Prior to the interviews with the immigration officer, the couples met to discuss the details of their purported marriages and rehearse the stories they would tell the immigration officer.

As a result of their fraudulent actions, Shahla, Antoun Chahla and Fadi Chahla became legal permanent residents of the United States, but the conspiracy was discovered by law enforcement authorities before their citizenship applications were processed. They are now subject to deportation based on their convictions.

The three women involved in the fraudulent marriages previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. They agreed to cooperate with the investigation and were each sentenced to two years of probation.

Each brother faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison for the conspiracy charge and up to 10 years in federal prison for each of the other offenses. The sentencing hearings have not been scheduled.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Former INS Employee Arranged Fake Marriages for Immigrants, is Indicted for Marriage Fraud and Alien Harboring

A past applications-adjudicator for the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has been indicted by a Bay Area grand jury on nine criminal counts stemming from his alleged role in a marriage fraud scheme.

Andrew Chojecki, 61, a naturalized U.S. citizen who most recently resided in Poland, is charged in an indictment handed down Thursday, December 6, 2012, with conspiracy to commit marriage and visa fraud, marriage fraud, and alien harboring. The charges are the result of a two-year probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and its partner agencies on the San Francisco Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Fraud Detection and National Security Unit.

Six additional defendants are accused of conspiring with Chojecki to commit the fraud. They are; Beata Szkop, Malgorzata Zuk, Aaron Goldsmith, Pawel Karolak, Vito Scherma and Hector Vargas. The latter four defendants are also charged with alien harboring.

According to the indictment, unsealed Monday, Chojecki allegedly facilitated fraudulent marriages in exchange for cash payments from at least April 2010 through November of 2012. The indictment claims Chojecki introduced aliens and U.S. citizens to each other for the purpose of entering into sham marriages to evade U.S. immigration laws. The indictment further alleges Chojecki provided the aliens with fraudulent immigration forms he prepared, sample questions he anticipated they might be asked by immigration officials, and guidance on steps aliens should take to make the marriages appear legitimate. In exchange for these services, Chojecki allegedly required the aliens to pay an initial lump sum at the time of the wedding, which he split with the U.S. citizen spouses, with additional sums payable to the spouses when the aliens received their green cards.

Chojecki was arrested in Los Angeles Nov. 23 when he arrived on a flight from Poland. The following week a magistrate judge in Los Angeles ordered Chojecki released on a $170,000 unsecured bond, with the condition of electronic monitoring. Prosecutors have appealed that release order to the district court in San Francisco on the grounds that Chojecki is a flight risk. Defendants Szkop, Karolak, Vargas and Zuk were arrested Monday, December 10, 2012, and made their initial appearance in federal court. Defendants Goldsmith and Scherma remain at large.

Each count of conspiracy to commit marriage and visa fraud, and marriage fraud carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The maximum statutory penalty for each count of alien harboring is 10 years in prison. The government is also seeking forfeiture of assets arising out of the conspiracy and alien harboring counts.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Four Found Guilty for Marriage and Immigration Fraud

Federal juries found three individuals guilty of marriage fraud and one individual pleaded guilty to marriage fraud after an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, the FBI and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

On Monday, November 26, 2012, a federal jury found Abubakir Khidirov, 26, of New Orleans, guilty of marriage fraud. A separate federal jury found Rustamon Bahriddinov, 26, of Charleston, S.C., and Rachel Ruiz, 36, of Orlando, guilty of marriage fraud Nov. 21. Rosemary Torres Rosario, 26, of Kissimmee, Fla., pleaded guilty to marriage fraud Monday, November 26, 2012.

These individuals were indicted as part of Operation Knot So Fast 2012. The operation targeted individuals who orchestrated fraudulent marriages to manipulate the U.S. immigration system.

According to evidence presented at trial, Ender Rodriguez, a leader in the fraudulent marriage scheme, arranged the marriage of Khidirov, who was unlawfully present in the United States, to Rosario, a U.S. citizen. The marriage was arranged so that Khidirov could fraudulently become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. During the course of the conspiracy, Rodriguez introduced Rosario to Khidirov. Khidirov then paid Rodriguez $3,500 to arrange the marriage. In addition, Rosario received $5,000 to participate in the scheme. Rodriguez used the fraudulently obtained marriage certificate to prepare and file fraudulent petitions with USCIS on behalf of Khidirov. Both Khidirov and Rosario attended a marriage interview and lied under oath that they entered into a legitimate marriage, when, in fact, they had not.

Ender Rodriguez also arranged the marriage of Bahriddinov, who was unlawfully present in the United States, to Rachel Ruiz, a U.S. citizen. During the course of the conspiracy, Bethania Deschamps, another individual involved in the scheme, recruited Ruiz to marry an alien and introduced her to Ender Rodriguez. Deschamps, who worked with Rodriguez, received a recruiting fee once the alien and the citizen were fraudulently married. As part of the conspiracy, Bahriddinov paid $3,500 to Rodriguez for arranging the marriage and $5,000 to Ruiz for participating in the marriage. Ruiz then used the fraudulently obtained marriage certificate to prepare and file fraudulent petitions with USCIS on behalf of Bahriddinov. Both attended a marriage interview and lied under oath that they entered into a legitimate marriage.

Bahriddinov and Ruiz are scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 28. Khidirov and Rosario’s sentencing hearings are scheduled for March 14. Each individual faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

Twelve other individuals have pleaded guilty to marriage fraud charges as part of Operation Knot So Fast 2012. They include:

  • Bethania Deschamps, 49, of Bronx, N.Y.,
  • Jessica Santiago, 35, of Orlando,
  • Idalia Gomez, 54, of Orlando,
  • Brienn Marie Lasley, 27, of Orlando,
  • Mariya Baran, 26, Kansas City, Mo.,
  • Eric Daniel Toro, 25, of Orlando,
  • Recep Aksu, 50, of Daytona Beach, Fla.,
  • Grisel Ortiz, 40, of Orlando,
  • Volkan Aksoy, 34, of Orlando,
  • Gisela Cora, 26, of Orlando,
  • Ixchell Bonilla, 28, of Orlando, and
  • Edna Isabel Cosme, 41, of Kissimmee.

Ender Rodriguez was charged in 2008 during the first iteration of Operation Knot So Fast. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit immigration benefit fraud. On Sept. 30, 2008, he was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Romanian National Pleads Guilty to Marriage Fraud

A 33-year-old Idaho man pleaded guilty Monday, October 15, 2012, to the unlawful procurement of U.S. citizenship following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Florin Fleischer admitted to providing materially false statements on his January 2010 naturalization application. During the application process, Fleischer stated he had never committed a crime for which he was not arrested; and that he had never provided false or misleading information to a U.S. government official in an application for an immigration benefit.

In 2003, prosecutors say that Fleischer, a Romanian national at the time, entered into a fraudulent marriage with a United States citizen for the sole purpose of unlawfully obtaining legal U.S. immigration status. Then, in January 2004, he filed an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain lawful permanent resident status based on his marriage. Later that year, he was granted conditional permanent residency. Fleischer subsequently petitioned to have the conditions removed and the petition was approved in 2007. In 2010, Fleischer was granted U.S. citizenship in Boise, based upon false statements he provided on his application.

Under the plea agreement, Fleischer faces court revocation of his U.S. citizenship. The charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release.

Fleischer’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 14, 2013, before U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“Operation Knot So Fast” Nets 21 Involved in Marriage Fraud

Multiple indictments charging 21 individuals with conspiracy and/or immigration benefit fraud (marriage fraud) were unsealed Wednesday, September 5, 2012. The indictments resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, the FBI and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

According to court documents, Bethania Deschamps, 49, of Bronx, N.Y., conspired to recruit U.S. citizens to marry aliens so the aliens could fraudulently obtain lawful permanent residence in the United States. Lawful permanent residence status is an immigration benefit that allows an alien to legally reside in the United States. Deschamps received a recruiting fee once an alien and a citizen were married. An individual named Ender Rodriguez and the citizens also were paid fees by the aliens as part of the conspiracy. Rodriguez used marriage petitions to prepare and file fraudulent documents with USCIS on behalf of the aliens.

Rodriguez was charged during the 2008 iteration of “Operation Knot So Fast,” an operation that targeted individuals who orchestrated fraudulent marriages in order to manipulate the United States’ immigration system. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit immigration benefit fraud. On Sept. 30, 2008, he was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison.

Other indicted individuals include:

  • Fayzullohuja Mavlonov, 32, of Denver,
  • Jessica Santiago, 35, of Orlando,
  • Marcelino Brizon, 41, of Orlando,
  • Idalia Gomez, 54, of Orlando,
  • Akmal S. Nosirov, 32, of Uzbekistan,
  • Brienn Marie Lasley, 27, of Orlando,
  • Mariya Baran, 26, Kansas City, Mo.,
  • Eric Daniel Toro, 25, of Orlando,
  • Abubakir Khidirov, 27, of New Orleans,
  • Rosemary Torres Rosario, 26, of Kissimmee, Fla.,
  • Marlon Jimenez, 43, of Norcross, Ga.,
  • Edna Isabel Cosme, 41, of Kissimmee,
  • Recep Aksu, 50, of Daytona Beach, Fla.,
  • Grisel Ortiz, of 40, Orlando,
  • Volkan Aksoy, 34, of Orlando,
  • Gisela Cora, 26, of Orlando,
  • Rustamhon Bahriddinov, 26, of Charleston, S.C.,
  • Rachel Ruiz, 36, of Orlando,
  • Avazhon Jafarkhojaev, 31, of Charleston, and
  • Ixchell Bonilla, 28, of Orlando.

The maximum penalty for each violation is five years in federal prison.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Peruvian Citizen Sentenced for Marriage Fraud Ring

A 30-year-old Peruvian citizen was sentenced Thursday, June 21, 2012, to more than 12 months in prison and fined $1,000 for participating in a marriage fraud scheme disrupted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Jenny Sedano-Vilcapoma, 30, of Ketchum, Idaho, pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. She admitted to conspiring to enter into a fraudulent marriage with a U.S. citizen for the sole purpose of obtaining immigration benefits. She further admitted that she applied for immigration benefits using her illegitimate marriage as the basis.

HSI special agents found that Sedan-Vilcapoma aided three other Peruvian citizens living in Blaine County, Idaho, in their efforts to enter into fraudulent marriages with U.S. citizens.

Sedano-Vilcapoma is the sixth and final defendant sentenced as a result of this investigation. In April, Rudy Isla-Mejico, 38, of Hailey was sentenced to five years of probation and a $1,000 fine for conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Isla-Mejico admitted assisting Sedano-Vilcapoma in recruiting individuals to enter into fraudulent marriages to obtain immigration benefits.

Four other defendants, all U.S. citizens, were convicted of making false statements in an immigration application as a result of their participation in the marriage fraud scheme. They admitted entering into fraudulent marriages in exchange for money.

In October, Anthony Joseph Scafidi, 31, of Hailey, Idaho, was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $5,000. Joshua Lee Buell, 30, and Daniel Casado, 34, both of Ketchum, were sentenced to five years of probation and 60 hours of community service in July 2011. Buell was fined $5,000 and Casado $3,500. In May 2011, Bryon Thomas Bain, 34, of Ketchum, was ordered to pay a $3,500 fine.

 
 

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Elderly Texas Woman Arrested for International Marriage Fraud Scheme

A Edinburg, Texas, woman was charged Thursday, June 21, 2012 with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the assistance of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Santos Botello, 76, was arrested June 20 and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos June 21 to face formal charges related to marriage fraud. Judge Ramos has set her bond hearing for June 22.

According to court documents, Botello was allegedly arranging sham marriages between foreign nationals and U.S. citizens for profit since 2002. Foreign nationals allegedly hired Botello to help them obtain residency status in the United States by arranging sham marriages with U.S. citizens.

The complaint goes on to state that Botello committed marriage fraud by arranging marriages between couples when they did not intend to establish a life together and were only seeking immigration benefits. Botello paid U.S. citizens to participate in the sham marriages, according to the complaint. She allegedly completed immigration paperwork and instructed them on how to present themselves to immigration officers. Botello told them to get a common law marriage certificate, and take pictures together; and she instructed couples how to answer questions at their immigration interview, the complaint states.

By filing a petition with USCIS, U.S. citizens may seek residency for an alien relative. These petitions are legal and permit a U.S. citizen to bring his or her close relative, such as a spouse, to the United States. Marriage fraud occurs when this petition for residency is filed, but the bride and groom do not intend to establish a life together at the time they are married.

The charge of marriage fraud carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, a maximum $250,000 fine and up to a three-year-term of supervised release.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kristen Rees and Kimberly Leo, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.

A criminal complaint is merely an accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

 
 

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Couple Convicted of Marriage Fraud

A Virginia Beach, Va., couple was convicted Monday, June 4, 2012, of conspiring to enter into marriages with American citizens for the purpose of obtaining permanent resident status in the United States.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Norfolk.

Danil Lyapin, 32, and Natallia Liapina, 54, are scheduled to be sentenced in September.

They each face five years in prison for conspiracy, five years for marriage fraud and five years for each false statement relating to naturalization and citizenship count.

“Marriage fraud poses a direct threat to the integrity of our immigration system and allows people to take advantage of benefits to which they are not entitled,” John P. Torres, special agent in charge of HSI Washington, D.C. “HSI will continue its efforts to identify and arrest individuals like Mr. Lyapin and Ms. Liapina, whose actions show a lack of regard for U.S. laws and undermine the legitimate immigration process.”

According to court records and evidence at trial, Danil Lyapin entered into a succession of three fraudulent marriages over the past decade to obtain lawful permanent residence status and eventual citizenship in the United States. Danil recruited his longtime business partner Armando to marry his mother so she could come to the United States, fraudulently obtain permanent residence, divorce Armando, re-marry Danil’s father and reunite the family in the United States.

Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Joseph DePadilla prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States.

 
 

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Bulgarian Man Involved in Marriage Fraud Scam Has U.S. Citizenship Revoked

A Bulgarian man who fraudulently obtained U.S. citizenship in a marriage fraud scheme originating in South Carolina had that citizenship revoked by a federal judge in Georgia, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Krassimir Simeonov, 43, residing in Canada, was convicted of marriage fraud charges in November 2007 and served 15 months in federal prison. He and his co-conspirator wife, Mariana Simeonov, were the masterminds behind a marriage fraud scheme that started in 1997 and ended April 24, 2007 with their federal indictment in South Carolina. Following his conviction, ICE attorneys filed a petition in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia, to revoke his fraudulently obtained citizenship. U.S. District Judge Horace T. Ward revoked Simeonov’s U.S. citizenship.

“Immigration benefit fraud schemes undermine the integrity of our nation’s legal immigration system, pose a security vulnerability and potentially rob deserving immigrants of benefits they rightfully deserve,” said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of HSI Atlanta. “The exploitation of our proud legal immigration tradition for profit is morally repugnant and HSI will move aggressively against those who engage in such criminal conduct.” Nicholson oversees HSI activities in Georgia and the Carolinas.

In 2005, HSI special agents initiated an investigation dubbed “Operation True Lies” into a marriage fraud scheme that involved South Carolina residents and Bulgarians living in Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, and Georgia.

As a result of the operation, 13 fake marriages were uncovered, the first of them dated about September 1997.

The couples falsely stated on legal documents that they were living together as husband and wife when they were not and had no intentions of doing so, according to the indictment. The fraudulent marriages allowed the Bulgarians to obtain rights and privileges that allowed them to stay in the country without having to apply for authorization from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.

The HSI investigation revealed that American citizens were paid $2,000 each to marry Bulgarians and to represent to immigration authorities that each marriage was a true relationship.

To date, 27 of the targets have been convicted and sentenced in the scheme.

 
 

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Former Immigration Attorney and Brother Sentenced for Marriage Fraud Scheme

A former immigration attorney and his twin brother were sentenced Wednesday, February 15, to federal prison for facilitating sham marriages that evaded immigration laws and enabled foreign nationals to illegally become U.S. citizens. The sentences resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

Manny Aguja, 55, of Chicago and his twin brother Marc Aguja, also 55, were sentenced Feb. 15 by U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan. Manny Aguja, a former private immigration attorney in Chicago, was sentenced to 24 months and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. Marc Aguja, who also worked at his brother’s law office, was sentenced to 12 months and one day and must also pay a $10,000 fine. The brothers both pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud.

Last month the U.S. Department of Justice formally expelled Manny Aguja from practicing immigration law.

The Aguja brothers are two of 10 defendants convicted for their roles in a marriage fraud conspiracy that recruited U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, primarily Filipinos, to enter into 27 sham marriages to evade immigration laws. Last month Maria F. Cruz, a former Cook County traffic court employee, was the first defendant to be sentenced in the case, receiving 33 months in prison.

Between July 2003 and October 2009 Cruz arranged fraudulent marriages between U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. As part of the deception, she referred participants to Manny Aguja’s law office for the preparation of paperwork in support of the sham marriages. In addition to preparing fraudulent immigration papers, the Aguja brothers met with the participants and coached them on how to make the marriages appear legitimate to immigration authorities.

Foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens legitimately may be eligible to become U.S. permanent residents, but not if the marriage was a sham solely to evade immigration laws.

“We will not tolerate such blatant exploitation and disregard for our nation’s immigration laws,” said Gary Hartwig, special agent-in-charge, HSI Chicago. “By circumventing these laws and taking illegal shortcuts to citizenship, the Aguja brothers used fraud and deceit to make a profit.”

HSI was assisted in the investigation by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Fraud Detection and National Security program.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Yonan, Northern District of Illinois, prosecuted the case.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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