Feds name suspected conspirators in ‘sham marriage’ scam, 11 charged

The only wedding favors clients of a Los Angeles-based wedding “agency” wanted were fresh green cards.

Eleven alleged conspirators were indicted Thursday on marriage and immigration fraud charges for running what the federal government has described as a company dedicated to arranging “sham marriages” to fraudulently apply for permanent residence in the United States. Eight of these people were arrested in Los Angeles.

At least one customer was a resident of Massachusetts, although Joseph Bonavolonta, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, added during a Thursday afternoon news conference that investigators had found at least three residents of Bay State involved in the alleged scam.

The Boston FBI discovered the alleged scheme when initial evidence was reportedly presented as agents investigated another undisclosed case.

“These marriages weren’t romance,” Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said. “This is not the movie ‘The Proposal’…these individuals have committed multiple frauds against the United States government for the explicit purpose of circumventing immigration laws.”

Marcialito “Mars” Bio Benitez, right, meets with clients at his business in Los Angeles. Benitez was charged along with 10 others as co-conspirators in a scheme to arrange fake marriages to pay clients to become permanent residents of the United States (Federal Court case)

Rollins described the business allegedly run by Marcialito Biol Benitez, 48, a Filipino national living in Los Angeles who went through “Mars” – at Career Ad Management LLC – as a “one-stop shop” for immigration fraud .

The agency reportedly recruits US citizens — often homeless women, Bonavonta added — to marry foreign nationals seeking a fast track to permanent residency and possible future citizenship, sometimes the day after they first meet.

Rollins said foreign customers would pay between $20,000 and $30,000, meaning at least the roughly 400 alleged customers paid the company more than $8 million.

The money was allegedly used to make monthly payments to “citizen spouses”, who were responsible for maintaining the image of marital bliss through the green card process, as well as the co-conspirators who recruited the clients, the authorities said. authorities.

If the citizen spouses were “cold-eyed,” Rollins said, the conspirators had a back-up plan: File restraining orders against them alleging domestic violence and exploit a loophole in the Violence Against Women Act to get when even the residence.

The company also reportedly posed the new fiancé for photos with typical wedding props: The images show pictures of “couples” kissing under flower-lined wedding arches and holding “Just Married” signs.

Rollins also said the agency would allegedly train the pairs for “immigration interviews designed to unearth the very frauds we accused them of today,” like romantic tales of how they first met. time.

“The alleged exploitation of this system by these defendants for profit is an affront to our country’s tradition of welcoming immigrants and prospective citizens,” Rollins said in a statement. “Their alleged fraudulent behavior makes it harder for the vast majority of immigrants who follow the law and our immigration system.”

Charged:

  • Marcialito “Mars” Biol Benitez, 48, Filipino national living in Los Angeles: alleged company boss
  • Engilbert “Angel” Ulan, 39, a Filipino national living in Los Angeles: alleged co-conspirator with an undefined role
  • Nino Reyes Valmeo, 45, a Filipino national living in Los Angeles: alleged co-conspirator with an undefined role
  • Harold Poquita, 30, a Filipino national living in Los Angeles: alleged co-conspirator with an undefined role
  • Juanita Pacson, 45, a Filipino national living in Los Angeles: suspected co-conspirator with an undefined role
  • Felipe Capindo David, 49, Filipino national living in Los Angeles: alleged recruiter of foreign nationals
  • Peterson Souza, 34, Brazilian national living in Anaheim, California: alleged recruiter of foreign nationals
  • Devon Hammer, 26, of Palmdale, Calif.: alleged “broker” citizen spouse
  • Tamia Duckett, 25, of Lancaster, Inglewood and Palmdale, Calif.: Alleged citizen “broker” wife
  • Karina Santos, 24, of Lancaster, Calif.: Alleged ‘broker’ citizen wife
  • Casey Loya, 33, of Lancaster and Palmdale, Calif.: Alleged “broker” citizen spouse

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