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May 14, 2010

SIX INDICTED FOR CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT MARRIAGE FRAUD AND BENEFIT FRAUD

(HOUSTON) - A sealed nine-count federal indictment has been unsealed following the arrests of three U.S. citizens and three Cambodian nationals for allegedly conspiring to commit marriage fraud, benefit/visa fraud and passport fraud, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.

“The United States, a melting pot for immigrants from all corners of the world, continues to welcome legal immigration,” said Moreno. “It is illegal immigration, whether by illegal entry, overstay, or fraud, which cannot and will not be tolerated.  We will continue to aggressively prosecute those who circumvent, or attempt to circumvent, the legal immigration process.”

Julianne Garcia, 27, and Helen Garcia, 64, both U.S. citizens; and Lorn Sou, 46, a Cambodian-born naturalized United States citizen, were arrested today by special agents of the Department of State - Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the agency that investigated the case. All are expected to make their initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy in Houston today. Samphear Thou, 35, a Cambodian national, and Jane Doe, age unknown, a Cambodian national, identified in the indictment by a number of aliases including Leaphiny Muth, were also arrested today in Midland, Texas, where they reside. They will make their initial appearances before a federal judge there before being transferred to Houston to face charges. The sixth defendant, Michael Reese, 57, a U.S. citizen from Pasadena, Texas, was arrested yesterday, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Mary Milloy and was ordered released on bond.  

All six of the defendants are accused of conspiring to commit marriage fraud for the purpose of evading immigration laws and knowingly presenting applications, affidavits and documents containing materially false statements which they subscribed to as being true. 

“Americans who break the law by committing marriage fraud or other, related offenses may potentially threaten the national security of the United States,” said Peter S. Hargraves, special agent in charge of the State Department’s DSS, Houston Field Office. “The U.S. visa is one of the most coveted travel documents in the world, and foreign nationals who acquire visas fraudulently to enter the United States may do so in order to carry out criminal activities, including terrorism. This case demonstrates Diplomatic Security’s commitment to investigating these crimes and helping bring them to justice.”

The indictment, returned by a Houston grand jury on Monday, May 10, 2010, alleges the conspirators would and did recruit U.S. citizens to enter into fraudulent marriages with Cambodian nationals. These “recruits” were paid substantial “marriage fees” to enter into the sham marriages. The conspirators entered into the sham marriages for the purpose of fraudulently obtaining the benefit of conditional permanent resident status and later lawful permanent resident status in the United States as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. In some instances, a recruit was required to kickback a portion of the marriage fee to their recruiter. 

In exchange for payment, the indictment alleges Julianne Garcia entered into a sham marriage with Thou in August 2006, while Reece entered into sham marriage with Doe in December 2006 - each with the ultimate purpose of circumventing immigration laws and obtaining residency benefits for the foreign national. 

Helen Garcia (Julianna’s mother) and Sou allegedly aided, abetted and assisted Julianne Garcia and Thou to enter into fraudulent marriage. Helen Garcia allegedly received payment for her alleged assistance. Sou is also accused of aiding and abetting the fraudulent marriage between Reece and Doe. Sou allegedly allowed her residence to be used on the marriage license applications as the residence address for both couples. Both couples posed for photographs at the residence which were later submitted to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services to establish their relationships as bona fide marriages. 

As part of the conspiracy, the indictment alleges the conspirators coached the recruited spouse - providing verbal and written instructions on what to say when questioned or interviewed by law enforcement or immigrations officials about the marriages. The conspirators allegedly thereafter prepared, signed and filed false immigration forms to obtain the benefit of conditional/permanent resident alien status accorded to the foreign spouses of U.S. citizens.

Doe is also charged with visa fraud, using and possessing a U.S. non-immigrant visa in the name of Leaphiny Muth, which was allegedly procured by means of a false claim and statement in 2007 and 2009. Doe and Reece are also accused of falsely claiming in February 2008 on a passport application for a minor child that Reece was the father.

According to the indictment, in February 2001 Doe applied for a visitor’s visa to the United States from Cambodia under the name Chanthy Sou, but was rejected entry. Later, Doe applied under the name of Leaphiny Muth and received a tourist visa, entering the United States on July 24, 2001. Thou allegedly received a tourist visa to enter the U.S.  on Jan. 16, 2003. 

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison and a $250,00 fine upon conviction. Passport fraud and visa fraud each carry a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.   

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kebharu H. Smith.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

 

 

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