The Department of Justice announced charges Thursday for 11 individuals in relation to a potential massive green card scheme “that allegedly arranged hundreds of sham marriages entered into for the primary purpose of circumventing immigration laws.”
Marcialito Biol Benitez a 48-year-old Philippines national, “operated what he and others referred to as an ‘agency’ that arranged hundreds of sham marriages between foreign national ‘clients’ and United States citizens,” according to a DOJ press release,
“One of those foreign national clients resided in Massachusetts. The agency then allegedly prepared and submitted false petitions, applications and other documents to substantiate the sham marriages and secure adjustment of clients’ immigration statuses for a fee of between $20,000 and $30,000 in cash,” the DOJ said.
Non-citizens were allegedly coached by Benitez and others on how to properly answer immigration officials’ questions. In many cases, the DOJ says, they even went to great lengths to put on sham marriage ceremonies to use as evidence for officials.
“It is the utmost honor and privilege to become an American citizen, and the individuals we arrested today have allegedly made a sham of that process by running a large-scale marriage fraud ‘agency’ that arranged hundreds of fake marriages for foreign nationals, racking up millions of dollars in profits,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston office.
Bonavolonta, as well as U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins, also said that the government has reason to believe their actions broke immigration laws while disadvantaging those who are attempting to come to the U.S. legally.
“Marriage fraud is a serious crime that threatens the integrity of our nation’s lawful immigration system,” Rollins also said in the press release.
“These defendants’ alleged exploitation of this system for profit is an affront to our nation’s tradition of welcoming immigrants and prospective citizens,” Rollins added.
The press release also stated that Benetiez and his accomplices are accused of assisting some clients in fraudulently obtaining residency under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) “by claiming the undocumented clients had been abused by alleged American spouses.”
According to the press release, the following were charges in relation to the alleged scheme:
- Marcialito Biol Benitez, a/k/a “Mars,” 48, a Philippine national residing in Los Angeles;
- Engilbert Ulan, a/k/a “Angel,” 39, a Philippine national residing in Los Angeles;
- Nino Reyes Valmeo, 45, a Philippine national residing in Los Angeles;
- Harold Poquita, 30, a Philippine national residing in Los Angeles;
- Juanita Pacson, 45, a Philippine national residing in Los Angeles;
- Felipe Capindo David, a/k/a “Pilipi” or “Peebles,” 49, a Philippine national residing in Los Angeles;
- Peterson Souza, 34, a Brazilian national residing in Anaheim, Calif.;
- Devon Hammer, 26, of Palmdale, Calif.;
- Tamia Duckett, 25, of Lancaster, Inglewood and Palmdale, Calif.;
- Karina Santos, 24, of Lancaster, Calif.; and
- Casey Loya, 33, of Lancaster and Palmdale, Calif.
These 11 appeared in court last Thursday and will be brought to Boston at a later date, according to NBC 10.