Over 100 people have been charged by the FBI in a massive immigration fraud scheme, according to New York Daily News. The scam, which mainly took place in Houston, Texas, involved getting immigrants green cards by marrying U.S. citizens.
The alleged mastermind of the scam was named as Ashley Yen Nguyen. According to reports, Nguyen would arrange marriages for those looking to enter the United States. Many of those who used Nguyen’s services came from Vietnam. The price for the sham marriage cost between $50,000 and $70,000. Nguyen would purportedly then find U.S. citizens willing to act as petitioners and get married — receiving a portion of the profits.
Ironically, several people who originally started as petitioners ended up being recruiters themselves in the multi-year scheme, expanding the criminal organization.
Once the wedding was arranged, the spouses would often meet for the first time right before getting the marriage license. Other times, they did not even meet at all.
However, to make the marriage seem more legitimate and fly under the radar of immigration officials, Nguyen would create fake wedding albums to give the illusion that the couple had a wedding at a venue in front of friends and family.
Though the couples were legitimately married, it still falls under marriage fraud, as “the spouses did not live together and did not intend to do so,” according to a release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“These arrests mark the culmination of a comprehensive yearlong multi-agency investigation into one of the largest alleged marriage fraud conspiracies ever documented in the Houston area.”
In total, 96 people have been charged and around 50 are currently in custody.
In addition to charges of marriage fraud, many have been indicted on charges that tax, utility, and employment information was falsified to raise fewer red flags for immigration enforcement officials. An attorney for the supposed criminal organization, Trang Nguyen, was also charged with obstruction of justice. He allegedly told a witness working with law enforcement not to speak with police anymore and instead go into hiding.
The ICE release emphasized that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services hoped that the roundup sent a “message.”
“By working together with our partners from various federal law enforcement agencies, we have sent a resounding message that we are united in our effort to disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations that seek to circumvent U.S. law by fraudulent means.”
“Marriage fraud is a serious crime… USCIS remains steadfast in our commitment to ensuring national security, public safety and the integrity of the immigration system,” the statement concluded.