by Jason Hopkins
Fifty people have been arrested and 98 have been indicted after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) busted an enormous marriage fraud operation allegedly taking place in Vietnam and Houston.
A months-long Homeland Security Investigations probe uncovered a criminal operation that enabled numerous foreign nationals to fraudulently obtain legal immigration status in the U.S., according to a Monday ICE press release. Under the alleged terms of conspiracy, immigrant beneficiaries would pay around $50,000 to $70,000 to get married and score permanent resident status.
However, according to the indictment, the marriages were complete shams.
The spouses typically met only briefly before they obtained their marriages licenses and did not live together after becoming a “married” couple. The criminal operation behind the marriages would go so far as to produce fake wedding albums and falsified tax, utility and employment information — all in an effort to convince U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to approve the forms.
“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,” Special HSI Agent in Charge Mark Dawson, said in a Monday statement. “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.”
The indictment alleges Ashley Yen Nguyen, 53, was the leader of the criminal scheme and had operatives working throughout Texas and Vietnam.
People involved in the conspiracy allegedly recruited U.S. citizens to act as marriage petitioners, who would then receive a cut of the proceeds from the beneficiary spouses. Several people who were recruited as petitioners eventually became recruiters themselves.
Marriage fraud or conspiracy to commit marriage fraud carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. The other charges — including mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and tampering with a witness, informant or victim — all carry the possibility of 20 years in federal prison.
“Marriage fraud is a serious crime,” USCIS Houston District Director Tony Bryson said in a statement Monday. “This indictment reveals how successful our working relationships are with our law enforcement and intelligence partners when it comes to investigating marriage fraud. USCIS remains steadfast in our commitment to ensuring national security, public safety and the integrity of the immigration system.”
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Jason Hopkins is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow Jason on Twitter.