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Document and Benefit Fraud
01/31/2008

Immigration fraud ringleader gets 3 years for arranging sham marriages

CHICAGO - An immigration fraud ringleader who conspired to arrange bogus marriages by pairing U.S. citizens and illegal aliens was sentenced in federal court today to three years in prison. The sentence resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Jeremy Starnes, 32, of Chicago, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Wayne Anderson to 37 months in prison and three years supervised release for conspiring to commit marriage fraud to circumvent U.S. immigration laws.

Starnes pleaded guilty Sept. 19 to conspiring with others to arrange sham marriages between nine U.S. citizens and nine Eastern European foreign nationals. He admitted recruiting U.S. citizens by promising them $5,000 to enter into fraudulent marriages with foreign nationals. These sham marriages enabled the foreign nationals to illegally receive U.S. permanent residence and obtain what are commonly known as "green cards." Starnes promised to pay the U.S. citizens the $5,000 in installments over the time period beginning on the day of the marriage and ending at the time the foreign national received a green card.

As part of the conspiracy, the U.S. citizens took steps to make each other's marriage fraud appear to be legitimate. For example, they drove each other to and attended each other's weddings, and they posed for photographs after the weddings; all the while they knew that the photos would be unlawfully used to support the legitimacy of the fraudulent marriages. Starnes also offered advice to the other defendants on what actions they needed to take to make their marriages appear legitimate.

Starnes himself entered into a sham marriage with a foreign national and falsely claimed to an immigration official that they had a child together in an effort to obtain a green card for the woman.

Starnes is one of 18 defendants originally charged in the conspiracy. To date, the investigation has resulted in 16 arrests and 13 guilty pleas.

"Our national security and public safety depend on an immigration system with integrity," said Elissa Brown, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Chicago. "ICE is committed to identifying and dismantling marriage fraud rings that circumvent our immigration laws. We ensure that those involved in these crimes experience the full weight of the law."

The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General assisted ICE in the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Drury successfully prosecuted the case against Starnes.