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Document and Benefit Fraud
01/23/2009

Leader of Seattle-area marriage fraud ring convicted by federal jury

Woman recruited and paid U.S. citizens to marry Cambodian nationals

SEATTLE - A South King County woman who ran an elaborate international marriage fraud scheme was convicted by a federal jury this morning on nine separate counts of fraud, money laundering and concealing an illegal alien, following an in-depth investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Vuthy Sim, 35, of Federal Way, Wash., was convicted on one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, three counts of visa fraud, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, three counts of money laundering, and concealing an illegal alien following a 12-day jury trial.

According to testimony presented during the trial, Sim began recruiting U.S. citizens in June 2002 to participate in sham marriages with Cambodian nationals so they would be eligible for United States visas, and ultimately, U.S. legal permanent residency.

As part of the scheme, Sim arranged for U.S. citizens to travel to Cambodia, where they would participate in staged engagement parties and weddings and pose for photos with the Cambodian nationals. She would then prepare the immigration documents required for visas, have the U.S. citizen sign them, and submit the paperwork to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. After Cambodian nationals arrived in the United States, Sim coordinated and witnessed civil wedding ceremonies between the U.S. citizens and the aliens.

In exchange for participating in this scheme, Sim paid the U.S. citizens up to $20,000 for a completed deal.The final payoff would come only after the Cambodian national was living in the U.S. and had been issued a "green card." Evidence presented at the trial showed that Sim's profits from the scheme exceeded $160,000. Financial records proved that she wired money from the Cambodian nationals to her bank accounts in the United States, and used that money to pay the U.S. citizens for their participation in the fake marriages.

Sim was also found guilty of concealing an illegal alien. The evidence showed that Sim obtained a visa for her "mother" to enter the United States. However, the "mother" was, in fact, Sim's sister. According to a witness at the trial, Sim's sister returned to Cambodia after the scheme became public, rather than her risk her own possible arrest by ICE.

"Today's guilty verdict is a reminder that America's legal immigration system is not for sale," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Seattle. "ICE will aggressively investigate those who seek to compromise the integrity of that system simply for personal profit."

Conspiracy to commit visa fraud is punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of five years in prison; visa fraud is punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of fifteen years in prison; conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering are punishable by a maximum term of twenty years in prison; and concealing an illegal alien is punishable by a maximum term of five years in prison.

ICE was joined in this investigation by the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division. Sentencing is set for April 20, 2009.