The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas announced this week that dozens of people have been arrested in the Houston area for taking part in a scheme that created sham marriages for the purpose of obtaining legal immigration status, KHOU 11-TV reported.
In a 206-page indictment, prosecutors allege that Ashley Nguyen, 53, ran the operation out of her home in southwest Houston. That residence was recently raided and officers found items that included fake wedding photo albums created to make marriages seem legitimate.
The TV station reported that 96 people have been indicted thus far, half of them undocumented Vietnamese immigrants and half of them American citizens recruited to marry them. As of Monday, 50 people were reported to be in custody, some arrested at the Houston airport as they prepared to leave the country.
The indictment alleges the recruited citizens were paid between $30,000 and $70,000 each to take part in the scheme and that documents were forged in an office near Nguyen’s house.
The indictment says Nguyen’s organization created false employment, tax, and utility information to make sure federal immigration officials would approve requests, including admission into the U.S. and conditional or full U.S. permanent resident status.
Others were indicted as middlemen, for allegedly passing money from the immigrants to the American spouses.
“I’m shocked,” a man identifying himself as Nguyen’s brother-in-law told KHOU. “That’s the first time I ever heard about it.”
At an initial court hearing Monday, friends and family members of those involved in the marriages described the ceremonies as shams because the men and women involved never intended to live together, the TV station reported.
The accused face up to 30 years in federal prison if convicted.