DALLAS - Twelve people were arrested today after officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS) Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS), and special agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), uncovered a large-scale marriage fraud ring involving fraudulent marriages dating back to the early 1970s.
ICE special agents arrested 12 of the 16 people who were indicted representing three generations of an extended family implicated for their roles in this lucrative business. Maria Refugia Camarillo, a U.S. citizen, was the alleged ringleader of the organization in which foreign nationals paid as much as $12,000 each to marry U.S. citizens. Once married, the foreign nationals could apply for U.S. permanent residence, and later U.S. citizenship. Eleven were arrested in the Dallas-Fort Worth area; another person was arrested in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The investigation was headed by ICE's local Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF), which includes FDNS officers. These task forces are specially trained and equipped to identify and target marriage fraud. The 29-count indictment accuses 16 people of various charges, including: conspiracy to commit fraud; misusing visas, permits and other documents; Social Security number fraud; and aggravated identity theft.
The alleged conspiracy involved a complex and organized deception to make the fraudulent marriages appear legitimate. Couples filed their applications for permanent residence with USCIS using fraudulently obtained legitimate documents that showed their marriages were valid. To further evade detection, some ring members also used fraudulent identities, including false names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers.
In addition to USCIS and ICE, other participants during this four-year investigation included the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General, the Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General, and the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General.
"I'm very proud of our USCIS officers who worked diligently with other agencies to uncover this fraud," said Lisa Kehl, USCIS Dallas district director. "We will not tolerate marriage fraud, or fraud of any kind. We will continue to partner with other agencies to ensure that immigration benefits are granted only to eligible applicants." Kehl oversees north Texas and the State of Oklahoma.
"Our Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force is made up of local, state and federal organizations throughout the DFW Metroplex," said John Chakwin Jr., special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Dallas. "This team is designed to help identify and plug vulnerabilities in the immigration system, as it has done with this extensive marriage fraud investigation." Chakwin oversees 128 counties in north Texas and the State of Oklahoma.
Richard B. Roper, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said, "I compliment the agencies who worked together to unravel this alleged conspiracy. My office will continue to work to prosecute those who use fraud to undermine our nation's immigration system."
The 12 alleged co-conspirators who were arrested May 13 are scheduled to make their first appearance before a U.S. Federal Magistrate this afternoon. They include:
Maria Refugia Camarillo, aka Cuca; Diana de Leon, aka Yvette Barrera; Laura de Leon; Olga Hernandez, aka Anita Marie Borja; Mary Lou Hernandez, aka Rachel Lucio Trejo; Oscar Hernandez; San Juanita Valdez; Antonio Anchondo; Arnoldo Anchondo; Alfredo de Leon Jr.; Josephine Hinajosa; and Diana Hernandez, aka Olga Jean Flores.
The four others who were also indicted but are still at large include:
Carmela Valdez, Andres Valdez, Delia Valdez and Maria Rosario Nunez.
This is an ongoing investigation.
ICE's Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces were created in March 2006 to address vulnerabilities in the immigration process. By targeting criminal organizations and seizing their illicit proceeds, these organizations will no longer threaten national security and public safety. The DBFTFs focus their efforts on detecting, deterring and disrupting both benefit fraud and document fraud.