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Document and Benefit Fraud
12/08/2009

11 indicted in Ohio marriage fraud scheme

Individuals entered into sham marriages to gain citizenship

COLUMBUS, Ohio - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and local officers in the metro-Columbus area arrested nine people charged with participating in a central Ohio based scheme to arrange sham marriages in order to evade U.S. immigration laws. Two additional arrests were made in New Orleans and Philadelphia. Two defendants remain at large. All 11 people were named Dec. 8 in federal indictments unsealed in federal district court.

Carter M. Stewart, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and Brian Moskowitz, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Investigations in Ohio and Michigan, announced the arrests.

"ICE will not tolerate those who engage in sham marriages to circumvent and exploit our nation's immigration system," said Moskowitz. "Marriage fraud poses a significant vulnerability that must not go unchallenged. ICE aggressively investigates those who take illegal shortcuts to citizenship, whether they do so to gain an immigration benefit or simply for personal profit."

The indictment alleges that Columbus-area residents Hasan Salohutdinov, Dimitry Pani, Sviatlana A. Piskunova and Laura Elizabeth Grace Scott recruited U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, primarily Eastern Europeans, to enter into sham marriages to evade immigration laws, starting in January 2007. The foreign nationals paid about $17,000 to marry U.S. citizens. The foreign nationals were allegedly promised legal residency in return for marrying citizens and the citizens were promised monetary compensation.

The indictment also alleges that defendants would counsel sham wedding partners regarding actions to take in order to lend the appearance of being a legitimate marriage, and assist non-citizens in preparing fraudulent documents to present to immigration officials.

"The indictment alleges that the defendants took part in a scheme to arrange marriages between U.S. citizens and foreign nationals," Stewart said. "The grand jury alleges that motivation for the Americans who entered into these marriages was money. The motivation for the ones they married was American citizenship."

Each count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and marriage fraud is punishable by up to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release. Foreign nationals also face deportation after any prison time served. A list of those charged is below:

Charged foreign nationals
NameCityStatus

Hasan Salohutdinov

Columbus

In custody

Dmitri Pani

Columbus

In custody

Sviatlana Piskunova

Columbus

In custody

Laura Scott

Columbus

In custody

Courtnie Good

Columbus

In custody

Sobithon Mirzaev

New Orleans

In custody

Elbek Saidjanov

Philadelphia

In custody

Iskander Tairov

Columbus

In custody

Brent Woods

Columbus

In custody

LaDawna Tackett

Columbus

At large

Djafar Sobirov

Columbus

At large

Stewart commended the investigation by ICE agents, and the assistance of the ICE Office of Detention and Removal, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Columbus Police Department, Franklin County Sheriff's Office and Reynoldsburg Police Department.

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.