SANTA ANA, Calif. - A woman from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., made her initial appearance in federal court here this afternoon on federal charges stemming from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into allegations she arranged sham marriages for dozens of foreign nationals seeking to legalize their immigration status.
Jie Hua Zhou, 35, a.k.a Carol Yeung, was arrested by ICE agents this morning at her Rancho Cucamonga home. The Chinese national is charged in a criminal complaint with conspiring to arrange fraudulent marriages and conspiring to induce illegal aliens to come into or reside in the United States. At her hearing this afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Block ordered Zhou detained pending trial. Her arraignment is set for December 29 at 10 a.m.
ICE agents allege Zhou charged anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 to arrange sham marriages for illegal aliens, primarily from China, who wanted to legalize their immigration status by wedding U.S. citizens. The original lead in the investigation was uncovered during Operation Newlywed Game, a massive ICE probe announced three years ago that targeted a marriage fraud ring based in Orange County involving hundreds of Chinese and Vietnamese nationals. Like the original defendants in Operation Newlywed Game, ICE agents say Zhou went to great lengths to make the bogus marriages appear legitimate, having clients pose for wedding photos, open joint bank accounts and file joint tax returns.
"America's legal immigration system is not for sale and we will move aggressively against those who compromise the integrity of that system simply to enrich themselves," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. "Marriage fraud, like all and types of immigration benefit fraud, poses a potential security threat because it creates a vulnerability which illegal aliens, criminals, and terrorists can exploit in an effort to remain in this country."
Over the course of the last five years, ICE suspects Zhou has arranged more than 100 fraudulent marriages. Today, agents executed a search warrant at her home, seizing boxes of potential evidence including financial records and scores of wedding photos. ICE agents also moved to seize approximately $200,000 in proceeds from the defendant's various bank accounts.
Investigators allege Zhou would line up prospective U.S. citizen "spouses" to marry her alien clients. After the sham marriages took place, Zhou assisted the couples with filing the bogus immigration petitions. ICE received substantial assistance in the investigation from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) program.
"An immigration officer with the FDNS office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services District 23 helped ICE with the interview that led to this arrest, lending her marriage fraud experience and translation abilities," said Los Angeles USCIS District Director Jane Arellano. "FDNS has collaborated with ICE since the inception of this investigation, providing its marriage fraud expertise. USCIS and District 23 are proud to assist ICE in these cases where our adjudication talents can prove useful."
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.