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Document and Benefit Fraud

Man convicted of arranging sham marriages between Nigerians and US citizens

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles man faces up to 30 years in prison following his conviction Wednesday on six felony criminal counts for illegally arranging sham marriages that allowed Nigerian nationals to fraudulently obtain legal permanent residency in the United States.

Alake "Terry" Ilegbameh, 46, a resident of the Baldwin Hills district of Los Angeles, was found guilty of six counts of conspiracy to violate immigration laws, the result of a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The verdict follows a six-day jury trial before U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald.

Prosecutors proved at trial that Ilegbameh arranged sham marriages for the purpose of obtaining permanent resident status for six Nigerian immigrants. Ilegbameh recruited American citizens who agreed to marry an African immigrant for money. He typically offered the U.S. citizens $1,000 or more, and actively participated in schemes to make the resulting marriages appear legitimate to immigration officials.

"Hollywood likes to glamorize marriage fraud, but as this defendant discovered, in real life these schemes don't have happy endings," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles. "Immigration benefit fraud is a serious crime. Not only do these activities undermine the integrity of our nation's legal immigration system, they also pose a significant security vulnerability."

As part of the scheme, Ilegbameh instructed the Nigerians and the Americans in the sham marriages how to make their relationships appear genuine by opening joint bank and other accounts, obtaining identification with matching addresses, and taking photographs together. Ilegbameh arranged for the couples to see immigration attorneys, who would file visa petitions and applications for adjustment of status containing false statements to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

After Ilegbameh concluded authorities were investigating his activities, he instructed some of the Americans involved to lie to investigators, threatening they would go to jail if they withdrew from the sham marriages.

Ilegbameh, who is scheduled to be sentenced February 24, faces a statutory maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison.