SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Three Sacramento residents were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury for their involvement in an elaborate immigration fraud scheme involving foreign nationals from India who paid to enter into sham marriages or engagements with locally recruited U.S. citizens in an effort to legalize their immigration status.
Sippy Lal, 58, Mamta Sharma, 34, and Rani Rachana Singh-Lal, 27, are charged with conspiring to induce aliens to enter and reside in the United States in violation of law. The case is the result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – Fraud Detection and National Security Unit, and the California Department of Justice – Bureau of Investigation and Intelligence.
Lal, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Fijian descent, was arrested on January 10, when HSI agents executed a search warrant at his Sacramento home. He was released after posting a $100,000 bond. Sharma, an Indian national married to Lal, is not a legal resident of the United States. She was also arrested and remains in custody. An arrest warrant is being sought for Singh-Lal.
The citizens recruited by Lal were paid thousands of dollars to fly to India, meet and take pictures with a purported spouse, and sometimes enter into actual marriages (albeit often using fake names). They would then file fraudulent petitions with USCIS for visas that would allow the Indian citizens to enter and reside within the United States.
According to the affidavit filed in the case, law enforcement has gathered evidence indicating that more than 50 fraudulent visa petitions are associated with Lal and his co-conspirators.
On at least one occasion, after an alien entered the U.S. in this manner, Lal paid a U.S. citizen to enter into a sham marriage with that alien in Sacramento. Sharma allegedly used various aliases to pose as a citizen in connection with five different petitions filed since 2008, despite the fact that she is not a citizen and, in fact, was really married to Lal. Defendant Singh-Lal is alleged to have posed as the petitioner with respect to three different petitions, all filed with slight variations on her true name.
"This indictment describes a business model in which the defendants profited by enlisting U.S. citizens to engage in repeated acts of fraud aimed at facilitating the illegal entry of foreign nationals into the United States," said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. "The family visa provisions are intended to promote family unity and accommodate marriages involving foreign nationals. We cannot permit those provisions to be cynically abused for personal profit. As this indictment and others recently brought by this office attest, we are committed to prosecuting those — aliens and U.S. citizens alike — who try to profit from circumventing our immigration laws through fraud and deceit."
"Hollywood may portray marriage fraud as a romantic farce, but this is a serious crime with serious implications," said Dan Lane, assistant special agent in charge for ICE HSI in Sacramento. "Immigration benefit fraud schemes undermine the integrity of our nation's legal immigration system, pose a security vulnerability and potentially rob deserving immigrants of benefits they rightfully deserve. The exploitation of our proud legal immigration tradition for profit is morally repugnant and HSI will move aggressively against those who engage in such criminal conduct."
A separate prosecution was brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office six months ago involving a similar marriage fraud scheme. Fourteen defendants were charged in that case, which involves alleged sham marriages arranged for profit between U.S. citizens and foreign nationals from Russia and Eastern Europe. To date, two defendants, Richard Vargas, 36, of Sacramento, and Olga Nekrasova, 26, of San Francisco, have pleaded guilty to felony charges in that case.
The maximum statutory penalty for conspiring to induce aliens to enter the United States is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sharma is also charged separately with aiding and abetting visa fraud, an offense which carries the same penalty.