The owner of a local chain of popular Thai restaurants was sentenced to six months in federal custody for paying employees to marry relatives of hers from Thailand so they could stay in the country.

The owner of a local chain of popular Thai restaurants was sentenced Friday to six months in federal custody for paying employees to marry relatives of hers from Thailand so they could stay in the country.

Varee Bradford, 44, who operates five Thai Ginger restaurants in Seattle and on the Eastside, pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to commit immigration fraud and three counts of fraud relating to immigration documents.

Prosecutors said she had set up several sham marriages in which she offered $10,000 to $20,000 to both male and female employees to marry her relatives to make it easier for them to obtain permanent resident “green cards” and stay in the country.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Otake argued for a slightly longer sentence of eight months, saying Bradford’s conduct hurt the “tens of thousands” of people who wait in line to live in this country legally.

Her attorney, Peter Camiel, requested no prison time, saying Bradford’s motives were altruistic, that she had not benefitted financially from her criminal acts and that she would never again reoffend.

“Your honor, I had good intentions to help my relatives,” Bradford told U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez during the hearing in which her supporters packed the courtroom.

Bradford was arrested at her Issaquah home last year after a grand jury indicted her on four felony counts.

She had been under investigation for about three years after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) received a tip about her sham-marriage scheme. The indictment specified four marriages that Bradford arranged between 2001 and 2007 between employees who were U.S. citizens and her Thai-born relatives.

Foreigners who marry U.S. citizens often are given immediate eligibility to immigrate to the United States, though the marriages must pass scrutiny by agents to make sure they are legitimate.

According to the restaurant’s posting on its Web site, Bradford immigrated from Thailand to Illinois and then moved to Seattle, where she worked in Thai restaurants for two years before she and her husband struck out on their own.

They opened the first Thai Ginger on the Eastside in 1996 and expanded to five restaurants within eight years.

A co-defendant in the case, Porramin Tangchaiwanna, one of Bradford’s managers, pleaded guilty to conspiracy earlier and was sentenced to four months in jail.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.