RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The Russian woman who admitted entering into a sham marriage with the man accused of conspiring with the male shooter in the December 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack pleaded guilty Thursday to federal immigration charges.
Mariyah Chernykh, 26, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal to charges of conspiracy, perjury, and false statements related to her sham marriage to Enrique Marquez Jr. As a result of her guilty pleas, Chernykh faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $1 million. Judge Bernal is scheduled to sentence Chernykh Nov. 20.
Chernykh is the second person to plead guilty in the immigration fraud scheme. On Jan. 10, Syed Raheel Farook, the brother of deceased San Bernardino attacker Syed Rizwan Farook, pleaded guilty to being part of the conspiracy.
The third defendant in the case – Tatiana Farook, the wife of Syed Raheel Farook – still faces charges contained in a grand jury indictment and is scheduled to go on trial on March 28.
The charges are the result of a probe conducted by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Riverside, which includes the FBI; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the San Bernardino Police Department; the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department; and the United States Attorney’s Office.
The indictment alleges that, beginning in late 2014 and continuing through February 2016, the three defendants conspired with Marquez to obtain immigration benefits for Chernykh by arranging and carrying out a fraudulent marriage between Chernykh, a Russian citizen, and Marquez, a United States citizen. In court, Chernykh admitted she made false statements in immigration documents, that she paid Marquez for his participation in the scheme, and that she made additional material false statements during interviews with FBI special agents.
Marquez was charged in a separate federal indictment with participating in the marriage fraud scheme, as well as plotting with San Bernardino attacker Syed Rizwan Farook in 2011 and 2012 to carry out attacks in the Inland Empire. Marquez is also charged with supplying two firearms that Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfin Malik, later used in the San Bernardino attack and during the shootout with law enforcement that ended in the couple’s death. Marquez is scheduled to go on trial before Judge Bernal on Sept. 26.
“Two of the four defendants charged as a result of the investigation into the December 2 San Bernardino terrorist attack have now been convicted,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “These convictions signify important progress in the ongoing investigation and prosecution of all those connected to the attack. Today’s guilty pleas are further proof that law enforcement has doggedly investigated all leads stemming from the tragic attack in San Bernardino as we continue our efforts to bring justice to the community.”
“The criminal activity by the defendants who entered into phony marriages was uncovered following the deadly terror attack that occurred in December 2015 in San Bernardino,” said Deirdre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Mariyah Chernykh ultimately admitted to lying to FBI Agents who were urgently seeking answers immediately following the attack to ensure that there were no additional threats to public safety. The defendant’s admission to violating U.S. immigration laws and defrauding the United States government is a welcome step as we continue our investigation of the attack which left 14 dead and several others seriously wounded.”
These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jay H. Robinson, Melanie Sartoris and Deirdre Z. Eliot of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section with substantial assistance from Trial Attorney C. Alexandria Bogle of the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Section.