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LEADERS OF SHAM MARRIAGE CONSPIRACY PLEAD GUILTY IN FEDERAL COURT “Operation Pit Boss” Uncovered Sham Marriage Scheme that Recruited at Casinos

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 7, 2006

The leaders of a large sham marriage scheme based in Southwest Washington pleaded guilty April 6, 2006 in federal court in Tacoma to Conspiracy to Commit Visa Fraud and Conspiracy to engage in Money Laundering. Brothers PHUOC HUU NGUYEN (a.k.a Steve Nguyen), 42, and LOC HUU NGUYEN, 38, both of Vancouver, Washington, entered their guilty pleas four days before their trial was scheduled to start before United States District Judge Ronald B. Leighton. An additional defendant in the case, EVERETT LEDBETTER, 34, of Lynnwood, Washington, entered a guilty plea this morning in Tacoma to conspiracy to commit visa fraud. Sentencing will be before Judge Leighton.

According to court documents, in 2003, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Diplomatic Security uncovered a network of individuals who were arranging sham marriages to bring Vietnamese immigrants into the United States illegally. The conspirators, led by Loc and Phuoc Nguyen, recruited United States citizens to travel to Vietnam to enter into fictitious engagements with Vietnamese nationals to facilitate their unlawful entry into the United States. The investigation was dubbed "Operation Pit Boss" due to the fact that a number of the conspirators worked at casinos in the Vancouver, Washington area.

Recruits were paid between $500 and $1,500 in addition to the free trip to Vietnam. Vietnamese nationals were charged between $10,000 and $20,000 by the leaders of the conspiracy for a Non-Immigrant Visa authorizing their entry into the U.S. The conspirators manufactured letters of affection and staged photos of the recruits with the Vietnamese nationals to perpetuate the fraud. Participants also transported U.S. currency from the United States to Vietnam to promote the visa fraud conspiracy, which constituted a violation of the federal money laundering statute. Some recruits who refused to participate after traveling to Vietnam were threatened or intimidated by members of the conspiracy. Investigators identified over 130 U.S. citizens who were involved in the scheme. At one point during the investigation, all requests for fiancé visas for Vietnamese nationals were suspended until authorities could identify and arrest the participants in this conspiracy. The Vietnamese nationals who entered the United States illegally will be processed for removal.

Five defendants have previously entered guilty pleas in the case. THANH BUI, 54, of Lakewood, Washington pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 21, 2006 by District Judge Franklin D. Burgess. On March 9, 2006, RICHARD EARL ANDERSEN, 36, of Seattle pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud. On March 20, 2006, RYAN SCOTT DANIELS, 28, of Tacoma, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud. On March 29, 2006, MONICA NGUYEN (a.k.a. Dao Thi Nguyen), 30, of Lynnwood, Washington, and AMANDA THAO NGUYEN, 28, of Lynnwood, Washington pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and conspiracy to engage in money laundering. Monica and Amanda Nguyen are siblings of Phuoc and Loc Nguyen. All are scheduled for sentencing before Judge Leighton.

The one remaining indicted defendant is scheduled for trial on June 12, 2006, before Judge Leighton. The United States Attorney’s office is continuing the investigation, and anticipates seeking additional indictments.

“Visa fraud undermines the integrity of our nation’s legal immigration system,” said Leigh Winchell, Special Agent in Charge for ICE investigations in Seattle. “This case should send a clear message that ICE is working aggressively to ensure that this kind of criminal activity does not go unchecked or unpunished.”

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. 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.

In addition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, the investigation was conducted by the Washington State Gambling Commission and the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matt Thomas and Doug Whalley. Both are members of the United States Attorney’s Criminal Enterprises Unit, created in 2004 to focus on prosecuting large criminal organizations operating in Western Washington.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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