Feds bust massive marriage immigration fraud
Federal prosecutors announced Tuesday they’ve busted a massive full-service marriage fraud scam based in Houston that charged people up to $70,000 to arrange a sham wedding with a willing U.S. citizen in order to immigrate to the U.S.
A total of 50 people have already been arrested and dozens more are still on the lam, authorities said.
The payments not only produced willing “spouses,” but also bought the fraudsters fake wedding photo albums, false tax and property records and a full storyline meant to fool U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services into believing the marriage was real.
Customers included people in Vietnam looking to enter the U.S., and others already in the U.S. who wanted to gain permanent legal status.
The 65-page, 206-count indictment lists 47 couples identified as taking part in sham marriages though many of the names are redacted because they have not yet been arrested.
The people running the operation hired drivers to make sure everyone got to their appointments, made sure the right documents were being filed on time with the immigration service, and set up the meetings to introduce the fake spouses, usually in Vietnam.
But the couples never actually lived together and never intended to do so, authorities say. They usually met only briefly or in some cases, never.
“Marriage fraud is a serious crime,” said Tony Bryson, district director at USCIS, who said the operation showed the government has the ability to sniff out scams.
The indictment says the operation was based in Houston and operated throughout Texas and Vietnam.
People paid between $50,000 and $70,000 for a sham marriage, with the fees prorated based on whether they needed visas to enter the U.S. or were already here, and then whether they were seeking conditional residence or full lawful permanent resident status.
“These arrests mark the culmination of a comprehensive year-long multi-agency investigation into one of the largest alleged marriage fraud conspiracies ever documented in the Houston area,” said Mark Dawson, special agent in charge in Houston’s Homeland Security Investigations office.