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Document and Benefit Fraud
11/30/2011

ICE HSI dismantles organized crime visa and marriage fraud scheme

NEW YORK – Owners, managers and associates of several strip clubs in the New York City-area — involved in an alleged international visa and marriage fraud ring — were arrested Wednesday by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS).

In total, 20 individuals were arrested for their participation in a visa and marriage fraud scheme involving the La Cosa Nostra organized crime families.

The defendants were members of an organization that arranged for women from Eastern Europe and Russia to illegally enter the United States to work as exotic dancers at adult entertainment clubs/strip clubs controlled by the Gambino and Bonanno crime families. Several of the defendants also arranged for many of the women to enter into sham marriages with U.S. citizens. 

"Today's arrests bring to an end a long-standing criminal enterprise operated by colluding organized crime entities that profited wildly through a combination of extortion and fraud," said James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New York.  "As alleged, the defendants controlled their business and protected their turf through intimidation and threats of physical and economic harm.  Today, that business model has been extinguished."

In an indictment unsealed today, defendants who are members or associates of the Gambino organized crime family:

  • Alphonse Trucchio;
  • William Pazienza, Sr.;
  • Christopher Colon; and
  • Richard Gutkowski.

Along with defendants who are members or associates of the Bonanno organized crime family:

  • Anthony Frascone;
  • Paul Casella; and
  • Lawrence Zaino.

All are charged with racketeering and extortion crimes related to their control of several strip clubs located in Queens and Long Island, at which the women worked. 

These seven defendants and 13 others — Aleksandr Kravets, Thomas Devitt III, Gerald Monfort, Yong Wang, Boris Yusupov, Vitaliy Mindyuk, Zhanna Kuznetsova, Elena Turubanova, Natalia Ivanova, Christine Gunning, Jeffrey Rinchey, Oscar Zeledon, and Alexander Beleson — are also charged with several other crimes related to the scheme, including visa fraud, marriage fraud, and transporting, harboring, and inducing the entry of illegal aliens. 

"As alleged, the schemes in which these defendants participated ran the gamut of criminal activity – from racketeering and extortion, to immigration and marriage fraud," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Southern District of New York.  "And the defendants themselves had one thing in common – the desire to turn the women they allegedly helped enter this country illegally, into their personal profit centers.  Today's arrests have brought an end to their illicit activities."

"The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to working with the U.S. Attorney's Office and our law enforcement partners at the Homeland Security Investigation's Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, to investigate and bring to justice those who commit passport and visa fraud, which oftentimes leads to other criminal activities," said Robert Goodrich, special agent in charge of diplomatic security in New York.  "This case demonstrates Diplomatic Security's continuing commitment to safeguard the integrity of the U.S. passport and U.S. visa by vigorously investigating and bringing those who commit passport or visa fraud to justice."

As per court documents, all seven of the defendants with ties to the Gambino and Bonanno organized crime families are charged with racketeering offenses.  Other charges contained in the indictment are available here.