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March 28, 2014Los Angeles, CA, United StatesDocument and Benefit Fraud

ICE outreach campaign warns Angelenos don't say 'I do' to marriage fraud

Publicity push comes as marriage fraud ringleader is sentenced to more than 2 years in prison

LOS ANGELES — Beginning Monday, placards created by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be going up at two area bus shelters warning Angelinos that marriage fraud is a federal crime that carries significant prison sentences and possible six-figure fines.

The posters are part of a nationwide outreach campaign targeting three major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C. The first two local posters will be installed at bus shelters adjacent to the federal building on Los Angeles Street. A third placard will be posted at another high traffic location in the Los Angeles area in approximately two weeks.

The posters feature a photo showing the inside of a church juxtaposed with an image depicting the interior of a jail. The accompanying text warns that those who walk down the aisle of the church for the "wrong reasons" may end up walking down the aisle of a jail. ICE officials acknowledge it is a strong message, but say the stern language is needed to remind the public about the possible consequences associated with sham marriages.

"Marriage fraud is not a storyline for a Hollywood rom-com, it’s a federal crime, and unfortunately one that is all too common," Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles. "Schemes like this not only undermine the integrity of America’s legal immigration system, they also pose a significant security vulnerability."

As if to underscore the point, a Los Angeles man was sentenced earlier this week to 26 months in federal prison after an HSI probe revealed he arranged sham marriages for Nigerian nationals so they could obtain legal permanent residency in the U.S. Alake "Terry" Ilegbameh, 46, of Baldwin Hills, was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald. The Nigerian national was convicted by a jury in November of six counts of conspiracy to violate immigration laws.

At trial, prosecutors proved Ilegbameh arranged sham marriages for the purpose of obtaining permanent resident status for six Nigerian immigrants. He recruited American citizens who agreed to marry an African immigrant for money. Ilegbameh typically offered the U.S. citizens $1,000 or more, and actively participated in schemes to make the resulting marriages appear legitimate to immigration officials.

As part of the scheme, Ilegbameh instructed the Nigerians and the Americans in the sham marriages how to make their relationships appear genuine by opening joint bank and other accounts, obtaining identification with matching addresses, and taking photographs together. Ilegbameh arranged for the couples to see immigration attorneys, who would file visa petitions and applications for adjustment of status containing false statements to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

After Ilegbameh concluded authorities were investigating his activities, he instructed some of the Americans involved to lie to investigators, threatening they would go to jail if they withdrew from the sham marriages.

Upon completion of prison sentence, Ilegbameh will face deportation. According to HSI special agents, at the time of his arrest, Ilegbameh was in the U.S. illegally and seeking to adjust his status based upon a fraudulent marriage.