A free trip to Vietnam and about a thousand bucks was all it took to convince a number of local casino employees to pretend to be married to Vietnamese immigrants, according to...
A free trip to Vietnam and about a thousand bucks was all it took to convince a number of local casino employees to pretend to be married to Vietnamese immigrants, according to a federal indictment.
Four alleged ringleaders of the scheme were charged yesterday in U.S. District Court in Seattle with conspiracy to commit visa fraud.
The indictment alleges the four, plus two others still at large, helped bring Vietnamese nationals to the U.S. by falsely claiming they were engaged to Americans. They recruited the American “spouses” among their colleagues at local casinos and elsewhere, prosecutors said.
All told, as many as 130 Americans agreed to be part of the scheme, according to the indictment.
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“The lure of easy money and overseas travel was too great and the organization capitalized on that,” said Mike McCool, deputy special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle.
For the Vietnamese brides- and grooms-to-be, the deal was much more costly, running $20,000 to $30,000 for a phony visa.
The scheme came to light because of an anonymous tip to the State Department, according to Thomas K. Depenbrock, special agent in charge of the department’s San Francisco field office.
Arraigned yesterday were Phuoc Huu Nguyen of Vancouver, Wash. and Monica Nguyen, Amanda Nguyen and Everett Ledbetter of Lynnwood. Loc Huu Nguyen of Vancouver, Wash. and Richard E. Anderson of Seattle remain at large.
The alleged ringleaders took care of all the details. According to court documents, they arranged for the Americans’ passports, accompanied them to Vietnam and introduced them to their “spouses.”
They also asked the Americans to write letters to their spouses-to-be showing their affection, and took them to tourist spots for photos together. That’s because U.S. authorities require evidence that a marriage isn’t a sham before they issue a visa to a fiancé.
But they were still concerned, according to court documents.
“The problem lies with proof,” Phuoc Huu Nguyen wrote in an e-mail to a co-conspirator, noting that the would-be spouses were barely able to speak English and converse with their alleged fiancés.
Some of the American recruits backed out along the way and say they were threatened, court papers say.
In other cases, sham marriages were performed in Washington, although it’s unclear how many. Officials are still trying to determine the extent of the scheme, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas B. Whalley, who said that the evidence is “a prosecutor’s dream.” That’s because the federal government has records of passport activity and visa applications, he said.
Those records are being combed for evidence of other participants, but so far, they’ve identified 130 possible suspects.
“I suspect that when words get out, there are going to be 130 people who are really nervous,” Whalley said.
So far, none of the recruits has been charged. The Vietnamese who came to the U.S. under false pretenses are subject to deportation.
The six alleged ringleaders are facing up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.