Desperation can drive a person to do some strange things, including commit a crime. The Bangor Daily News reports that a Kenyan woman was so desperate to be a U.S. citizen she participated in a fraudulent scheme to marry a Maine resident in order to acquire the designation.
The story details that the Kenyan woman is only one of nearly 30 people involved in a scheme led by two men, who had family connections in Lewiston. According to court documents, she married a man in Lewiston almost two years after her visitor’s Visa expired in order to gain U.S. citizenship, but she never lived with him. The husband provided her and one of the scheme leaders with identification documents, tax forms, passport photos, a birth certificate and signed documents; however, he was never interviewed by immigration officials. (This is a crucial part of the process that helps immigration officials determine if a marriage is legitimate.)
Evidently, the process for obtaining permanent residency was not moving along fast enough, so two-and-a-half years after the nuptials, the defendant took matters into her own hands. The story states that the bride pulled a trump card of sorts and filed documents under the Violence Against Women Act, which permits “a lawfully admitted alien who has been subjected to abuse by her U.S. citizen spouse to petition for permanent residence in the United States without the knowledge or approval of the U.S. citizen spouse.” She falsely claimed that she had been physically, sexually and emotionally abused by her husband. She was awarded lawful permanent residency.
The story gets more interesting. She was eventually investigated and, after being indicted by a federal grand jury, she fled the U.S. for her native country. She was arrested 13 months later after trying to re-enter the U.S. through JFK International Airport in New York. She has been held without bail since that time.
During the woman’s trial, her attorney stated that the defendant did not know that she was committing an illegal act. (She should have thought of that before she said “I Do” and again prior to fleeing the country.) She ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. She faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
One of the sham marriage ringleaders was sentenced to two years in prison for the same crime as the Kenyan woman. (He was ordered to pay a $20,000 fine and is expected to be deported.) The other man, who actually arranged the woman’s marriage, disappeared before his trial occurred and is considered to be a fugitive. The groom, who allegedly was drawn into the scheme by a friend, has not been charged.
This case proves that it doesn’t pay to try to go around the system. This woman’s crime of desperation will cause her to lose the benefits she so furtively sought – the privilege of U.S. citizenship that is reserved for those who rightfully apply and qualify.