News and Press Releases

Fifth of Some Thirty Defendants Charged with Accepting Trips and Cash to Engage in Sham Marriages

January 12, 2007

MATTHEW L. COATES, 31, of Vancouver, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to three years of probation and a $1,000 fine for Conspiracy to Commit Visa Fraud. U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton imposed the sentence. COATES is one of some 30 people identified by law enforcement as having accepted trips and cash to travel to Vietnam to pose as fiancés as part of a visa fraud conspiracy. Conspiracy ringleader PHUOC NGUYEN, age 43, of Vancouver, Washington, recruited COATES and gave COATES $1,000 and a plane ticket to Vietnam. Once COATES was in Vietnam, PHUOC NGUYEN introduced COATES to his fake fiancé. PHUOC’s brother, LOC NGUYEN, age 40, of Vancouver, Washington, arranged for COATES to be paid an additional $10,000 cash by his fake fiance’s uncle to complete a sham marriage in June 2003, in Tacoma, so that COATES’ Vietnamese fiancé would get permanent residency in the United States. COATES must forfeit $11,500 to the U.S. government as proceeds of his crime.

The investigation into the visa fraud scheme was dubbed “Operation Pit Boss” because many of the conspirators were recruited at casinos in Washington State. Six of the conspiracy ring leaders were indicted in early 2005. Law enforcement has identified over 130 fraudulent fiancé visa applications connected to the scheme. Because of the scheme, the U.S. government stopped issuing fiancé visas in Vietnam for a time and has had to use considerable resources attempting to repatriate the Vietnamese nationals who entered the United States illegally.

The principal ringleaders of the visa fraud scheme, brothers LOC HUU NGUYEN and PHUOC NGUYEN, were each sentenced to 3 years in prison and 3 years of supervised release in June 2006.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service with assistance from the Washington State Gambling Commission. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Thomas and Douglas B. Whalley.

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

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