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Document and Benefit Fraud

Missouri attorney and mistress indicted for second marriage fraud conspiracy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A federal grand jury indictment was unsealed Thursday charging a Jefferson City, Mo., attorney and his Ukrainian mistress with committing marriage fraud. This is the second indictment under similar charges filed against the pair since April.

This indictment resulted from an extensive investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the Jefferson City, Mo., Police Department.

James Douglas Barding, 60, of Jefferson City, and Darya Chernova, 38, of Chandler, Ariz., were charged in a four-count indictment that was returned May 22 under seal by a federal grand jury in Jefferson City. That indictment was unsealed and made public May 30 upon Barding’s arrest and initial court appearance.

Both Barding and Chernova were previously indicted on similar charges April 24 related to a different marriage fraud conspiracy. The status of that case is not affected by the more recent charges contained in the May 22 federal indictment.

According to the most recent indictment, Barding, who is married, had a long-running affair with Chernova, a Ukrainian national. Chernova entered the United States on a student visa and attended Lincoln University before earning a master’s degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She had previously lived a couple of blocks from Barding’s residence. She has since moved to Arizona.

Barding and Chernova allegedly approached at least one U.S. citizen to enlist in a scam marriage so that she could remain in the United States. The citizen, named "TD" in the indictment, married her March 13, 2005 in Cape Girardeau County, Mo., at a ceremony attended by Barding. The purpose of the arranged marriage was to allow Chernova to assert to immigration authorities that she was married to a U.S. citizen so that she could remain in the United States and fraudulently seek immigration benefits. Barding allegedly told TD that he could divorce Chernova after she had gained sufficient status to allow her to remain in the United States without being married.

The indictment further alleges that Chernova and TD filed false paperwork with USCIS. As a result, Chernova was granted conditional U.S. permanent resident status Nov. 27, 2008, which was later extended. As a result of these filings, Chernova was allowed to remain in the United States and permitted to work and to attend school. Also, Chernova and TD periodically filed additional paperwork, attended hearings, meetings and tests in support of her applications for legal status, to eventually apply for citizenship.

Among the falsified information provided by Chernova and TD were documents in which they claimed to be living together; in reality Chernova never resided with TD. To lend credence to the scam, Chernova and TD allegedly opened accounts or placed Chernova’s name on various materials to give the appearance that she was living with TD.

In December 2005 (more than nine months after she fraudulently married TD) Chernova gave birth to Barding’s child, for whom he provided support. In September 2009, Chernova had a second child by Barding and falsely claimed on the birth certificate, on paperwork filed with USCIS and during a hearing under oath, that TD was the father. DNA testing revealed Barding as the father, the indictment says, and Barding later admitted this. On Oct. 18, 2011, Barding was found by order of the court to be the father of the child, and the birth certificate was officially changed.

In the separate April indictment, the pair were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States by enticing a different U.S. citizen to marry a male foreign national, named as "OD" in that indictment. They approached several individuals and eventually found a female U.S. citizen to agree to the fraud, but she later declined to participate. As a result they found yet another citizen who agreed, and who is alleged to have carried out the scam.

In addition to the conspiracy, Chernova is charged with making a false statement relating to naturalization, and with unlawfully procuring naturalization. Barding is also charged with making false statements under oath in an immigration matter.

The charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.