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December 14, 2017Document and Benefit Fraud

Homeland Security Investigations stops Brevard County marriage fraud ring

Orlando, Fla. – An indictment charging seven individuals for their involvement in a marriage fraud ring operating out of Brevard County from 2015 to 2016 has been unsealed and brings the total arrests in this ring to nine individuals. This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Cocoa Beach office, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services - Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives with assistance from the Brevard County Clerk of the Court.

“These criminals conspired to circumvent and exploit our nation's immigration laws for personal financial gain,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge James C. Spero. “This undermines the very objectives of our immigration laws and services, which are based on the honesty of the people who apply for immigration benefits.”

William Matthew Tex Price (31, of Cocoa), April Coleen Moore (24, of Satellite Beach), Khagan Mushfig Oglu Nabili (24, a citizen of Azerbaijan), Zafar Bakhramovich Yadigarov (26, a citizen of Uzbekistan), Valriy Tsoy (33,  a citizen of Kazakhstan), Maria Rogacheva (28, a citizen of Russia), and Svetlana Vladimirovna Shakhramanyan (28, a citizen of Azerbaijan) have been charged and each faces up to five years in federal prison. Price has also been charged in a separate indictment with possessing a firearm as a convicted felon and faces up to 10 years in federal prison for that offense. Denis Yakovlev (40, a citizen of Russia) and Meghan Toole (28, of Cocoa) were previously charged and pleaded guilty for their involvement in this conspiracy.

“It is a federal criminal offense to enter into a marriage for the purpose of evading our nation’s immigration laws, said Maria N. Bjornerud, chief counsel of the Orlando Office of Chief Counsel office. “These cases are an excellent example of ICE’s legal team’s commitment to protecting the integrity of our immigration system at all levels.”

According to court documents, in October 2015, agents from HSI with the Brevard County Clerk of the Court to investigate a significant surge in the number of aliens from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and other former Soviet countries marrying U.S. citizens in Brevard County. This led to the arrest of Yakovlev and Toole on July 13, 2016. After his arrest, Yakovlev admitted to introducing approximately 100 individuals to each other over an 18-month period for the purpose of them entering into sham marriages for immigration benefits. Yakovlev claimed that his payment typically ranged from $1,000 to $2,000 per sham marriage, and that the American citizens were paid between $10,000 and $20,000 each.

Last month, Nabili and Rogacheva each pleaded guilty to one count of marriage fraud. Price pleaded guilty to two counts of marriage fraud and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Yadigarov, Tsoy, and Shakhramanyan were arrested on December 7, 2017, in the Eastern District of New York. Moore was arrested on October 15, 2016, and her trial date has been set for January 2, 2018.

In November 2016, Yakovlev was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment for encouraging or inducing an alien to reside in the United States, and Toole was sentenced to 4 months’ imprisonment for marriage fraud.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

These cases are being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina R. Downes, on assignment from the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, ICE, with the office of Acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow, Middle District Florida.