ATLANTA – A Lithia Springs man was found guilty Friday of deceiving immigration officials by helping aliens enter into fraudulent marriages with U.S. citizens, obtaining his own citizenship in violation of the law and conspiracy to commit visa fraud and alien harboring.
Rex Anyanwu, 51, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) following an extensive investigation into his marriage fraud conspiracy. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS) Fraud Detection National Security Unit and U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service also assisted in the case.
"For at least 11 years, the defendant ran a fraudulent marriage factory," said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. "He paid U.S. citizens to marry aliens and then lied to immigration officials to assist the aliens in their illegal efforts to stay in the United States. Anyanwu's illegal business has been shut down and he will now lose his own citizenship."
"By undermining the integrity of our immigration system, the defendant caused numerous people to receive immigration benefits to which they were not entitled, including the ability to fraudulently naturalize as U.S. citizens in some cases," said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of HSI Atlanta. "By enlisting vulnerable homeless and destitute citizens in his scheme, the defendant exposed them to a criminal conspiracy in which they otherwise would likely never have been involved in."
According to information presented in court, beginning in February 2001 and continuing until April 2012, Anyanwu conspired with aliens and U.S. citizens to defraud immigration officials to obtain lawful status for the aliens in the United States. At trial, the United States called numerous U.S. citizen witnesses from Huntsville, Ala., who testified they were recruited and paid $700 by Anyanwu to marry aliens, predominantly from Kenya and Nigeria. Alien witnesses were also called to testify they had agreed to pay Anyanwu as much as $10,000 to find them a U.S. citizen willing to marry them, but not live with them.
The U.S. citizens and aliens testified that they typically did not meet each other until the very day of the wedding when they were introduced, sometimes on the courthouse steps, by Anyanwu. The defendant told the "couple" to bring multiple changes of clothes and in one case provided a U.S. citizen with the shirt off of his own back. He would then take pictures of the supposedly happily married couple in different clothing for use in proving to immigration officials that the couple shared a life.
A true marriage, one where the couple intends to remain together, is one path through which an alien can become a U.S. citizen. Engaging in a marriage solely for immigration purposes is a crime. Evidence at trial showed that Anyanwu continued his scheme by filing fraudulent applications for visas with USCIS. Many witnesses testified the defendant would forge U.S. citizens' names on the paperwork submitted to immigration. For an additional fee, Anyanwu would create fraudulent documents to show the couple lived together, including false Form 1040 tax returns, false W-2s, fraudulent verification of employment letters, fraudulent leases and bills, all intended to demonstrate that the couple was in fact sharing their life and living together.
When USCIS scheduled an interview with the couple, Anyanwu would then send the U.S. citizen spouse to a Department of Motor Vehicles office to obtain a fraudulent driver's license or identification card. The U.S. citizens testified they were again paid by the defendant to do this and were told by him what address to put on the identification document. These documents were intended to deceive USCIS into believing the couple actually lived together when, in fact, they never did.
Lastly, Anyanwu would again contact the U.S. citizen spouse when it was time for the "couple" to go in for their immigration interview. The defendant would meet with the couple and go through questions and answers to questions typically asked by USCIS to determine if a marriage is valid – simple questions that any legitimately married couple that lived with each other would know. However, since these couples did not live together and share their lives, they needed Anyanwu's coaching to pass the interview. The U.S. citizens testified that they were paid more money by the defendant for attending the interviews. The aliens testified that they paid Anyanwu additional money before the interview.
One Huntsville witness testified that she was made to pose as another person and go to USCIS pretending to be the spouse of an alien. When she was arrested for using fraudulent identification, Anyanwu abandoned her in Atlanta and later threatened her not to tell anyone about him. Another witness testified that she referred 50 U.S. citizens to Anyanwu to get paid to marry people born in Africa.
Anyanwu faces several charges in this case. The conspiracy to engage in visa fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371 carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison. He faces up to 10 years in prison for the remaining charges – visa fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1546(a), alien harboring in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) and (v)(II) and (B)(i), conspiracy to do the same in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1324(a)(1)(A)(v)(I), and procuring naturalization for himself in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1425(a) – and up to a $250,000 fine on each count.
Sentencing for Anyanwu is scheduled for Jan. 27, 2014, before United States District Judge Thomas W. Thrash.