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Document and Benefit Fraud

Chicago brothers sentenced to prison for roles in marriage fraud conspiracy

CHICAGO — A former immigration attorney and his twin brother were sentenced Wednesday to federal prison for facilitating sham marriages that evaded immigration laws and enabled foreign nationals to illegally become U.S. citizens. The sentences resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.

Manny Aguja, 55, of Chicago and his twin brother Marc Aguja, also 55, were sentenced Feb. 15 by U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan. Manny Aguja, a former private immigration attorney in Chicago, was sentenced to 24 months and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. Marc Aguja, who also worked at his brother's law office, was sentenced to 12 months and one day and must also pay a $10,000 fine. The brothers both pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud.

Last month the U.S. Department of Justice formally expelled Manny Aguja from practicing immigration law.

The Aguja brothers are two of 10 defendants convicted for their roles in a marriage fraud conspiracy that recruited U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, primarily Filipinos, to enter into 27 sham marriages to evade immigration laws. Last month Maria F. Cruz, a former Cook County traffic court employee, was the first defendant to be sentenced in the case, receiving 33 months in prison.

Between July 2003 and October 2009 Cruz arranged fraudulent marriages between U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. As part of the deception, she referred participants to Manny Aguja's law office for the preparation of paperwork in support of the sham marriages. In addition to preparing fraudulent immigration papers, the Aguja brothers met with the participants and coached them on how to make the marriages appear legitimate to immigration authorities.

Foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens legitimately may be eligible to become U.S. permanent residents, but not if the marriage was a sham solely to evade immigration laws.

"We will not tolerate such blatant exploitation and disregard for our nation's immigration laws," said Gary Hartwig, special agent-in-charge, HSI Chicago. "By circumventing these laws and taking illegal shortcuts to citizenship, the Aguja brothers used fraud and deceit to make a profit."

HSI was assisted in the investigation by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Fraud Detection and National Security program.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Yonan, Northern District of Illinois, prosecuted the case.