News and Press Releases

Nineteenth Defendant Sentenced in Scheme to Engage in Sham Marriages

October 26, 2007

BENJAMIN PRIEST, 31, of Portland, Oregon, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to three years of probation, a $1,000 fine and forfeiture of $2,000 for Conspiracy to Commit Visa Fraud. PRIEST was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Franklin D. Burgess. PRIEST is one of some thirty people identified by law enforcement as having accepted trips and cash to travel to Vietnam to pose as a fiancé as part of a Visa fraud conspiracy. The investigation of the conspiracy, dubbed “Operation Pit Boss” because many of the conspirators were recruited at casinos, resulted in indictments against six main targets in early 2005.

PRIEST is the nineteenth of the American “recruits” to be sentenced in the case. He pleaded guilty on August 9, 2007, admitting that he traveled to Vietnam and had photos taken with the women who would get a fiancé visa as part of the sham marriage scheme. PRIEST authorized documents alleging the woman was his fiancee, but had minimal contact with the woman after she arrived in the United States. Law enforcement identified over 130 fraudulent fiancé visa applications connected to the scheme.

As a result of this scheme, 50 to 60 Vietnamese Nationals illegally entered the United States. According to agents with Homeland Security and the Diplomatic Security Service, it is more difficult to deport those Vietnamese aliens who have already entered the United States illegally than it is to deport aliens from countries with whom we have shared full diplomatic relations for many years. The scheme further harmed legitimately engaged couples, because at one point the U.S. Consulate in Vietnam ceased issuing visas in order to ensure the fraud had been uncovered. These couples were kept apart for lengthy delays.

The ringleaders of the visa fraud scheme, Loc Huu Nguyen and Phuoc Nguyen, both of Vancouver, Washington, were each sentenced on June 30, 2006, to three years in prison and three years of supervised release.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the States 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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