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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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