50 in custody following 'massive' marriage fraud scheme in Houston

HOUSTON, Texas - Federal immigration and homeland security agents arrested 50 people after a federal grand jury returned a 206-count indictment criminally charging 96 people for their alleged roles in a large-scale marriage fraud scheme.

Houston Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson said this is "one of the largest alleged marriage fraud conspiracies ever documented in the Houston area."

Federal officials said the investigation targeted a suspected criminal organization allegedly operating a large-scale marriage fraud scheme to create sham marriages to illegally obtain admission and immigrant status for undocummented immigrants in the United States.

The federal indictment further alleges 53-year-old Ashley Yen Nguyen, aka Duyen, of Houston, headed the Houston-based organization and had associates operating throughout Texas and the Republic of Vietnam.

Federal investigators said individuals enter into sham marriages primarily to circumvent U.S. immigration laws. The indictment alleges the marriages involved in this conspiracy were fraudulent because the spouses did not live together and did not intend to do so, contrary to the official documents and statements they submitted to USCIS. Officials said the spouses only met briefly, usually immediately before they obtained their marriage license, or not at all.

According to the criminal charges, each beneficiary spouse entered into an agreement with Duyen in which they paid about $50,000 to $70,000 to obtain full U.S. permanent resident status. The agreements were allegedly prorated, meaning individuals would allegedly pay an additional amount for each immigration benefit they received, such as admission into the United States, conditional U.S. permanent resident status and full U.S. permanent resident status.

Duyen and others allegedly recruited other U.S. citizens to act as petitioners in the sham marriages who received a portion of the proceeds received from the beneficiary spouses. Federal investigators said several individuals recruited as petitioners soon afterwards became recruiters themselves. Others were also allegedly in charge of receiving the proceeds from the beneficiary spouses and disbursing the payments to the petitioners, investigators said. 

This criminal organization allegedly prepared fake wedding albums which were provided to the petitioner and beneficiary spouse that included photographs to make it appear as if they had a wedding ceremony above and beyond a simple courthouse marriage. The indictment further alleges the criminal organization provided false tax, utility and employment information to help ensure USCIS would approve the false immigration forms.

45-year-old attorney Trang Le Nguyen, aka Nguyen Le Thien Trang, of Pearland, Texas, was also indicted for allegedly obstructing and impeding the due administration of justice and tampering with a witness, victim or informant. 

According to the indictment, Nguyen allegedly prepared paperwork associated with at least one of the fraudulent marriages and told a witness who provided information to law enforcement to go into hiding, to not engage in any air travel that may alert federal law enforcement to her presence, and to not provide any further information to law enforcement.

These criminal charges include: 47 counts of marriage fraud, 50 counts of mail fraud; 51 counts of immigration fraud; 51 counts of false statements under oath in a matter relating to registry of aliens; and one count each of conspiracy to engage in marriage fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, conspiracy to make false statements under oath in a matter relating to registry of aliens, unlawful procurement of naturalization, obstructing and impeding the due administration of justice, and tampering with a witness, victim or informant.

Conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and tampering with a witness, victim or informant all carry possible 20-year federal prison sentences. If convicted of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud or marriage fraud, those charged face up to five years in prison. The remaining charges all have maximum possible 10-year-terms of federal imprisonment.

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