The federal agency said the grand jury returned an indictment on April 30 with 206 counts, charging 96 people. So far, 50 people are in custody, according to the agency.
According to the indictment, the scam involves creating sham marriages to help foreign people to attain immigration status and admission into the United States. The main purpose of the scam was to circumvent U.S. immigration laws.
“Marriage fraud is a serious crime,” said District Director Tony Bryson from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Houston.
— ICE (@ICEgov) May 13, 2019
“This indictment reveals how successful our working relationships are with our law enforcement and intelligence partners when it comes to investigating marriage fraud,” Bryson added. “USCIS remains steadfast in our commitment to ensuring national security, public safety and the integrity of the immigration system.”
According to the statement, marriage fraud, or conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, has a maximum sentence of five years.
The indictment accused 53-year-old Ashley Yen Nguyen, also known as Duyen, of running the organization based in southwest Houston. She allegedly also had associates around Texas and in Vietnam.
Prosecutors say the marriages were shams because the alleged couples did not live together, nor did they have any plan to do so, even though their statements and official documents indicated that they did. Moreover, in some cases, these “spouses” had only met briefly and usually just before obtaining their marriage license. In other cases, they never met at all.
To make a wedding appear real, the organization created fake wedding albums and photos, along with false tax, utility, and employment information so as to not raise suspicion from USCIS and ensure the immigration forms were approved, prosecutors alleged.
As part of the agreement, Nguyen allegedly received $50,000 to $70,000 from the “beneficiary spouse” for helping them to obtain a full lawful permanent resident status, according to the statement. Additionally, she would be allegedly paid more for extra immigration benefits the “spouse” would receive.
A second person, Trang Le Nguyen, also known as Nguyen Le Thien Trang, 45, an attorney in Texas, was also indicted in the case. She had been charged with “obstructing and impeding the due administration of justice and tampering with a witness, victim, or informant.”
Prosecutors said Trang was allegedly responsible for preparing paperwork related to at least one of the fraudulent marriages. She also told one of the witnesses to go into hiding, not to travel by plane, and to not provide any further information to authorities.
Nguyen also allegedly recruited other U.S. citizens to act as petitioners in sham marriages. These people would receive a part of the money paid by the “beneficiary spouse.” Some of these people would go off and become recruiters for the organization, the statement said.
Prosecutors say some of the other people who were charged were allegedly responsible for collecting money for the “beneficiary spouse” and distributing the payments to the petitioners.
“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,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson, from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston.
According to the indictment, criminal charges include 47 counts of marriage fraud, 50 counts of mail fraud; 51 counts of immigration fraud; 51 counts of false statements under oath in a matter relating to registry of aliens; and one count each of conspiracy to engage in marriage fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, conspiracy to make false statements under oath in a matter relating to registry of aliens, unlawful procurement of naturalization, obstructing and impeding the due administration of justice, and tampering with a witness, victim or informant.
If convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and tampering with a witness, victim or informant, defendants face up to a maximum sentence of 20 years.