Did you know if you commit “marriage fraud” in the U.S. (pretending to marry a U.S. citizen in order to stay in this country) you could go to prison for five years and be fined $250,000?
A bunch of Moroccan immigrants and their American partners have just discovered that after being arrested in Connecticut by federal authorities this week. These arrests follows last month’s monster sweep by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents that picked up 23 undocumented immigrants in Connecticut and more than 2,900 nationwide, allegedly for having serious criminal offenses on their records.
The 10 people collared on alleged marriage fraud were from New Haven, West Haven, Waterbury, Madison and Bridgeport, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The federal investigation involved a confidential informant who was wired up to record conversations with some of the people involved in the alleged marriage conspiracy. The informant was apparently one of the people involved in a fake marriage.
In one recorded conversation, accused conspirator Fouad Elhadriri allegedly told the informant: “Tell them that you got married in good faith. There is no way to find that it... was not in good faith unless you tell them by your mouth. … I did it twice. I did it twice here.”
Here’s the press release on the busts from the U.S. Attorney’s Office:
MARRIAGE FRAUD INVESTIGATION RESULTS IN 10 ARRESTS
David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Bruce M. Foucart, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations in New England, announced that 10 Connecticut residents were arrested today on federal charges stemming from their alleged involvement in a marriage fraud scheme.
Each of the following individuals has been charged by federal criminal complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud:
FOUAD ELHADIRI, 31, of Waterbury,
BAHIJA SAADOUN, 36, of West Haven,
HAMID KASSEM, 38, of West Haven,
EBONY KASHANN JAYNES, 36, of New Haven,
RACHID SAADOUN, 27, of West Haven,
KHALID KASSEM, 41, of West Haven,
DAWN PECK, 34, of Madison,
FATIMA SAADOUN, 25, of West Haven,
GINO KOUSA, 48, of Bridgeport,
STACEY BROOKS, 40, of New Haven
According to court documents and statements made in court, in November 2010, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) initiated an investigation into fraudulent marriages that had allegedly been arranged between Moroccan nationals and U.S. citizens in order for the Moroccan nationals to unlawfully immigrate to the U.S. The investigation has included the use of consensual recordings, an examination of immigration and airline records, and other information.
The investigation has revealed that ELHADIRI allegedly arranged a fraudulent marriage between his brother, a Moroccan national, and BROOKS, a U.S. citizen. ELHADIRI provided BROOKS with several thousand dollars and a trip to Morocco in September 2007 in exchange for BROOKS’ agreement to file a petition for ELHADIRI’s brother to enter the U.S. and to thereafter marry him. BROOKS married ELHADIRI’s brother in New Haven in May 2008. It is alleged that BROOKS never saw her husband again after the date of their marriage.
It is further alleged that, in 1999, BAHIJA SAADOUN entered into a fraudulent marriage with a U.S. citizen. In recent years, she also has arranged fraudulent marriages between her brother RACHID SAADOUN, a Moroccan national, and JAYNES, a U.S. citizen; her sister FATIMA SAADOUN, a Moroccan national, and KOUSA, a U.S. citizen; and her brother-in-law KHALID KASSEM, a Moroccan national, and PECK, a U.S. citizen. JAYNES, KOUSA and PECK also are alleged to have received money and trips to Morocco for agreeing to enter into the fraudulent marriages. HAMID KASSEM, who is BAHIJA SAADOUN’s second husband, is alleged to have cosponsored the immigration applications for his brother, KHALID KASSEM, and his sister-in-law, FATIMA SAADOUN.
As part of the scheme, it is alleged that BROOKS, PECK and JAYNES submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services fraudulent documentation explaining the origin of their respective relationships with their prospective spouses, including letters claiming that each had engaged in a long-term, online relationship before traveling to Morocco to meet their future spouses, and references to numerous photographs they had taken during their respective one-week trips to Morocco.
The charge of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.
U.S. Attorney Fein stressed that a complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This matter is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ICE Homeland Security Investigations and Citizenship and Immigration Services, Office of Fraud Detection and National Security Unit. The Connecticut State Police, and the Norwalk, Trumbull, Bridgeport and Naugatuck Police Departments have assisted the investigation.
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Rahul Kale.