UPDATED 6:30 AM PT — Tuesday, May 14, 2019
ICE agents in Texas have arrested 50 people linked to a large-scale fraudulent marriage operation. On Monday, authorities announced the suspects are in custody for participating in a wedding scam used by Vietnamese nationals to bypass immigration procedures. The defendants were joined by their families in court as back to back hearings took place.
The scheme reportedly began in August of 2013, and is responsible for over 150 sham marriages. The alleged ring leader — Ashley Nguyen — reportedly ran the operation from her home and from an office building nearby, where she created fraudulent paperwork for immigration authorities. During a raid, ICE officials found fake wedding photo albums used to make the marriages seem legitimate.
Nearly 100 people indicted, 50 currently in custody in massive Houston-based marriage fraud conspiracy https://t.co/j5uuZwHAOB pic.twitter.com/07k5hjrDEd
— ICE (@ICEgov) May 13, 2019
Prosecutors said U.S. citizens were recruited to marry foreigners, who paid $20,000 to $70,000 in cash for the marriage. The U.S. citizens received a cut of the money, while the Vietnamese nationals obtained visas. Prosecutors called the marriages a sham because the couples never intended to live together. Most of the couples only met once for their wedding day.
Nguyen’s attorney — Mark Carter — denied she did anything wrong:
“She’s essentially become part of this indictment because she’s helped people.”
Officials said this is the largest marriage fraud conspiracy unraveled in the Houston area. The hefty indictment charged over 96 people for their alleged roles in the scheme, but only about half of them have been arrested. If found guilty, the defendants each face a maximum of 30-years in federal prison.