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Document and Benefit Fraud
05/06/2011

Syrian family indicted and arrested on immigration charges

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A multi-count indictment was returned yesterday against five Syrian family members from Jacksonville, charged with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and to make false statements to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Mowafak Shahla, 42, Fadi Chahla, 39, Antoun Chahla, 41, Fadel Chahla, 69, and Nuhad Numan, 60, all of Jacksonville, were charged in the indictment, following an investigation led by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents.

Mowafak Shahla, Fadi Chahla, and Antoun Chahla were arrested at two different residences Thursday morning in Jacksonville. Fadel Chahla and Nuhad Numan remain at large and may be outside of the United States.

The indictment also charges Mowafak Shahla, Fadi Chahla, and Antoun Chahla with unlawfully procuring naturalization and citizenship.

Fadel Chahla and Nuhad Numan are the parents of Mowafak Shahla, Fadi Chahla, and Antoun Chahla. All five emigrated at different times, from Syria to the United States.

The indictment alleges a multi-object conspiracy involving a U.S. citizen, Raymond Knight, working with Mowafak Shahla to broker a series of fraudulent marriages.

The conspiracy involved three U.S. citizens entering into fraudulent marriages in exchange for money. The three fraudulent marriages involved Mowafak Shahla and Victoria Knight, Fadi Chahla and Brenda Pettit, and Antoun Chahla and Genetta Knight.

In support of these fraudulent marriages and in an attempt to procure naturalization and citizenship, each defendant submitted documents containing false statements to USCIS.

If convicted on all counts, Mowafak Shahla, Fadi Chahla, and Antoun Chahla each face a maximum penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment and $750,000 in fines. In addition to these penalties, the United States is seeking forfeiture of two residences used to facilitate the crimes charged in the indictment.

On Jan. 10, Victoria Knight pled guilty to conspiracy to make false statements to a government agency. On Feb. 8, Genetta Knight pled guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, make false statements to a government agency, and mail fraud. And on Feb. 9, Brenda Pettit pled guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, make false statements to a government agency, and mail fraud. Each is awaiting sentencing.

The case was investigated by ICE HSI, Federal Air Marshal Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin C. Frein is handling the prosecution of this case.