Las Cruces man, Chinese nationals indicted in marriage fraud scheme

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - A Grand Jury has indicted two U.S. citizens and four Chinese nationals in connection with an alleged scheme to obtain legal residency for foreign nationals through fraudulent marriages, federal officials said.

The indictment charges 44-year-old Yi Lee, a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in Santa Fe, New Mexico; 31-year-old Santiago Aveles of Las Cruces; 39-year-old Chia-Jung Chang, 32-year-old Dan Zheng, 42-year-old Lian Xiang Deng, and 50-year-old Xiao-Yin Le with Marriage Fraud.

Officials said the Chinese nationals were in the US illegally.

The indictment also charges Aveles and Zheng with committing marriage fraud for the purpose of evading federal immigration laws.

Aveles, Chang, Zheng, and Deng, arrested last week, were arraigned in federal court in Las Cruces on May 11, 2017. All entered a not guilty plea.

Chang, Zheng and Deng were ordered detained pending trial. Aveles was released under pretrial supervision.

Federal officials said the fifth and sixth defendants, Yi Lee and Xiao-Yan Le, have yet to be arrested and are considered fugitives.

From June 2016 through March 2017, the six defendants allegedly conspired to obtain immigration status for foreign nationals by having them marry US citizens in exchange for money.

Lee is accused of facilitating the conspiracy by arranging meetings between foreign nationals and U.S. citizens in order to obtain marriage licenses, working permits and green cards.

The indictment states Lee allegedly attempted to arrange fraudulent marriages between some of the co-defendants and undercover law enforcement agents.

If convicted, each of the defendants faces a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment on the conspiracy charge.

Avelez and Zheng each face a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment on the marriage fraud charge.  

Officials said this case was investigated by the Las Cruces office of Homeland Security Investigations and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dustin C. Segovia of the U.S. Attorney's Las Cruces Branch Office.

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