Over the past 10 years, the United States has welcomed more than 7.4 million immigrants as naturalized citizens. These new American citizens followed the rules and met all the requirements instituted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Today’s fraudster from Rochester, New York disrupted this legal immigration system by facilitating immigration fraud through fake marriages.
The mastermind of the fraudulent scheme recognized that American citizenship is a prized possession, so he devised a plan to profit off of immigrants seeking residency by charging them each $5,000 to wed an American citizen. (The brides hailed from the Rochester area.)
The ringleader went to great lengths to make the marriages appear legitimate. For $5,000, the wedding planner sold wedded bliss by coordinating all aspects of the scheme, ensuring that all official documents were signed, photos were taken and witnesses were present. (That’s certainly cheaper than the average cost of a wedding today, which is around $25,576; however, you really can’t put a price on American citizenship.)
Thanks to a tip received from an informant, who happened to be a native and citizen of Nigeria, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) launched an investigation into the matter. The Nigerian man reported that the wedding planner claimed he could arrange fraudulent marriages between non-citizen males and female American citizens to gain legal status in the U.S. According to a Department of Justice press release on the case, the defendant met with undercover federal agents and confidential informants over the next 10 months to coordinate their sham marriages.
Unbeknownst to the defendant, he introduced the undercover agents or confidential informants to his co-conspirators (the ladies from Rochester). During the sting operation, names, addresses, dates of birth and contact information were exchanged so the necessary immigration forms could be filed. Specific details of the bogus marriage process and ceremony were also discussed. (Perhaps they covered coordinating colors, reception menu, cake flavors, flowers and plans for the honeymoon too.) After the nuptials, fake immigration forms were mailed to reflect the immigrant’s new marital status.
For two of the weddings, women who worked for the defendant got married at a Town Clerk’s office, where the officiant was actually an undercover law enforcement agent and the defendant was the witness. On another occasion, several brides-to-be accompanied an undercover agent to Buffalo to participate in an immigration interview with USCIS. The undercover agents paid money directly to the defendant and his co-conspirators. (Talk about being caught red-handed.)
The undercover investigation yielded the arrests and convictions of four people involved in the scam. The 30-year-old ringleader from Rochester received a one-year prison sentence for heading up the immigration fraud scheme. Two of his co-conspirators received three years of probation and six months home confinement and two years of probation, respectively. The third is awaiting sentencing.
Ironically, today’s fraudster was sentenced on the same day and in the same federal courthouse where more than 50 individuals became lawful U.S. citizens in a naturalization ceremony. Because this criminal did not demonstrate an understanding and basic respect for the idea that American rights come with responsibilities, he no longer has a right to the privileges that come with being an American citizen. This criminal was putting the nation at risk by selling fake weddings for profit. (It looks like there is no wedded bliss or happy ending to this story, just tears of sadness and a prison sentence for a wedding gift.)
Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, “Feds used fake wedding sting for arrest, conviction in immigration marriage fraud case,” published by Democrat & Chronicle on October 16, 2017.
On March 23, 2016, in “a village outside Rochester,” a wedding took place.
There were official documents signed, photos taken, witnesses — all those precursors to a future of wedded bliss.