MINNEAPOLIS - Forty-three people were charged this week in federal court with conspiring to commit marriage fraud in connection with a marriage fraud ring centered in the Twin Cities. The charges resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The operation allegedly involved recruiting U.S. citizens to enter into fraudulent marriages with Chinese nationals so they could obtain visas and other immigration benefits.
The indictment against the 43 defendants, which was unsealed today following the arrests of 20 of those charged Thursday and Friday, was filed April 15. It alleges that between 2002 and November 2007 the defendants conspired with each other and others to enter into fraudulent marriages between Chinese citizens and U.S. citizens to evade U.S. immigration laws.
"ICE and our law enforcement partners aggressively target organizations that perpetrate immigration fraud because they compromise the integrity of our legal immigration system," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Bloomington. "Our mandate is to identify and close vulnerabilities."
Two of the men who arranged these allegedly fraudulent marriages have already pleaded guilty. Houa Vang, 23, of St. Paul, pleaded guilty last month; and Le Guo Wu, 31, of Philadelphia, Pa., pleaded guilty in February. Both pleaded guilty to conspiring to profit from arranging, facilitating and participating in fraudulent marriages.
The 20 defendants who appeared in federal court Thursday and Friday are: Nou Chang, 24, St. Paul; Mingwen Yang, 26, unknown address; Kaneeka Chanthavong, 25, Brooklyn Park; Vang Her, 25, St. Paul; Andmire Kissluv Lee, 28, St. Paul; Chee Chengshua Lee, 24, Brooklyn Center; Chue Dou Vang, 29, Mankato; David Ku Vang, 29, Maplewood; Pao Vang, 24, St. Paul; Falamena Vue, 21, St. Paul; Annie Pafoua Xiong, 23, Oakdale; Tou Kao Xiong, 23, Fridley; Toua Xiong, 26, St. Paul; Cheng Yang, 27, South St. Paul; Chue Yang, 24, St. Paul; Joe Yang, 27, Minneapolis; Koua Yang, 21, St. Paul; Lyfoung Yang, 26, Brooklyn Center; Thomas Yang, 25, Walnut Grove; and Tou Kao Yang, 26, Brooklyn Park.
The other 23 defendants indicted are: Mei Chen, 22, unknown address; Xiu Ying Chen, 21, unknown address; Xiuying Chen, 21, unknown address; Ying Chen, 24, unknown address; Yulu Chen, 23, unknown address; Huizhu Huang, 21, unknown address; Ling Huang, 22, unknown address; Mei Xia Huang, 21, unknown address; Caimin Li, 24, unknown address; Guangping Lin, 29, unknown address; Jianyun Lin, 23, unknown address; Feicui Liu, 21, unknown address; Jinlan Liu, 22, unknown address; Meiyun Liu, 20, unknown address; Yanjin Liu, 20, unknown address; Xiao Yan Lu, 22, unknown address; Yanxia Teng, 23, unknown address; Kao Vang, 27, St. Paul; Soua Vang, 27, Woodbury; Xiangquan Wang, 28, unknown address; Fen Yang, 23, unknown address; Lian Zhu Ye, 24, unknown address; and Jing Zhao, 22, unknown address.
Thirty-nine of the defendants were also charged with one count of aiding and abetting marriage fraud, and four were also charged with one count of aiding and abetting visa fraud.
The indictment alleges that the goal of the conspiracy was to facilitate entry into and residence within the United States by Chinese nationals (the beneficiaries) through fraudulent marriages to U.S. citizens (the petitioners). The petitioners traveled to China on one or more occasions to facilitate the illegal entry of the Chinese nationals into the U.S. The indictment alleges that the petitioners received up to $25,000, minus their travel expenses to and from China, in exchange for their participation in the fraud scheme.
Chinese beneficiaries paid to participate in the scheme to secure fraudulent entry into the U.S., the indictment alleges, and that the purported relationship between a petitioner and beneficiary was documented with "sham" evidence designed to give the appearance of a legitimate pre-marital relationship. The indictment also alleges that if a beneficiary successfully made entry into the U.S., the petitioner and beneficiary would often participate in a civil marriage ceremony to obtain a marriage license.
Most petitioners and beneficiaries complied with the terms of the fraudulently obtained visa by gaining legal status for the sham marriage, the indictment alleges. The indictment also alleges that neither before nor after the marriage license was issued did the petitioner and beneficiary enter into a bona fide marital relationship.
If convicted, the 43 defendants each face a potential sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy, five years for aiding and abetting marriage, and 10 years for aiding and abetting visa fraud. All sentences are determined by a federal district court judge.
This case resulted from an investigation by ICE's Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, which includes the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys LeeAnn K. Bell and David M. Genrich.
An indictment is a determination by a grand jury that there is probable cause to believe that offenses have been committed by the defendant. The defendant, of course, is presumed innocent until he or she pleads guilty or is proven guilty at trial.