ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands - A 34-year-old Colombian woman was found guilty June 2 in District Court of marriage fraud related charges following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigation.
According to the evidence presented in court, Dora Bibiana Ramirez Laverde, of Estate Altona, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), married Joshua Allen Chitolie, a U.S. citizen from St. Croix, USVI, during a civil ceremony in St. Croix.
A few months later, Chitolie filed a visa petition with the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to obtain legal permanent resident status for his wife.
While the petition for legal permanent residence was still pending, USCIS learned that Laverde had given birth to a child in order to help establish that her marriage to Chitolie was a bona fide marriage rather than a marriage of convenience in order to circumvent U.S. immigration laws.
USCIS requested Chitolie to submit to a paternity test to prove that he was, in fact, the biological father of the child born to Laverde.
Following testing, the laboratory where the tests were performed sent a copy of the DNA test report and a photo of the male who submitted himself for testing with the child to USCIS. Upon review of the sent material, USCIS noticed that Chitolie was not the person who presented himself for testing.
USCIS interviewed Laverde about the discrepancy where she falsely said that she accompanied her husband Chitolie to the laboratory for the child to be tested. Later in the interview, Laverde admitted that she actually accompanied her boyfriend to the laboratory for the paternity test and that the boyfriend, the actual father of her child, submitted himself for testing using her husband's identity in order to circumvent immigration laws and avoid removal from the United States.
"ICE will not tolerate those who engage in sham marriages to circumvent and exploit our nation's immigration system," said Roberto Escobar-Vargas, acting special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Puerto Rico. "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."
Laverde faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise A. Hinds.