NEW CHARGES AND ARREST IN SHAM MARRIAGE SCHEME
Five people indicted by a federal grand jury with Conspiracy to Commit Visa Fraud have now been charged with Money Laundering as well. The superceding indictment returned this week alleges five of the defendants laundered approximately $35,000 in proceeds from the visa fraud scheme. The investigation, dubbed "Operation Pit Boss" due to the fact that a number of the alleged conspirators were connected through local casinos, revealed a web of individuals who arranged sham marriages to bring Vietnamese immigrants into the country illegally. The alleged conspirators are PHUOC HUU NGUYEN (a.k.a STEVE NGUYEN)(42) of Vancouver WA, LOC HUU NGUYEN (38) of Vancouver, WA, MONICA NGUYEN (a.k.a. DAO THI NGUYEN)(30) of Lynnwood, WA, EVERETT LEDBETTER (34) of Lynnwood, WA, AMANDA THAO NGUYEN (28) of Lynnwood, WA, and RICHARD EARL ANDERSEN (35) of Seattle. LOC HUU NGUYEN returned voluntarily from Vietnam in April. ANDERSEN was recently deported from Vietnam and now is in custody at the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac. He will have a detention hearing Tuesday May 31, 2005 in the Federal Courthouse in Tacoma.
According to the indictment, the conspirators recruited United States citizens to travel to Vietnam to enter into fictitious engagements to marry Vietnamese nationals to facilitate their unlawful entry into the United States. The recruits were paid between $500 and $1500 in addition to the free trip to Vietnam. Vietnamese nationals were charged between $20,000 and $30,000 for a Non-Immigrant Visa authorizing their entry into the U.S. The conspirators helped the recruits manufacture letters of affection and staged photos of the recruits with the Vietnamese nationals to perpetuate the fraud. Some recruits who refused to participate after traveling to Vietnam were threatened or intimidated by members of the conspiracy.
Conspiracy to commit visa fraud carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, a period of supervised release of three years, and a $100 penalty assessment.
The superseding indictment charges all of the defendants but Andersen with conspiracy to commit money laundering. It alleges that the participants transported currency from the United States to Vietnam to promote the visa fraud conspiracy. Conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the amount of the laundered funds, a period of supervised release of five years, and a $100 penalty assessment.
Investigators with the U.S. State Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are in the process of contacting as many as 130 U.S. citizen recruits who may have engaged in the visa fraud. Many of those recruits also face potential visa fraud charges. The Vietnamese nationals who entered the United States illegally will be processed for removal.
The indictment is a charge that has not yet been proven at trial beyond a reasonable doubt.
Agents from the U.S. State Department, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CID) and the Washington State Gambling Commission participated in the joint investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys James M. Lord, Matt Thomas, and Douglas B. Whalley are prosecuting the case.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer, United States Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington at (206) 553-4110.