News and Press Releases

Arranged Sham Marriages to Obtain Citizenship for Workers and Relatives

February 19, 2010

VAREE BRADFORD, 44, of Sammamish, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to six months in prison and two years of supervised release for Conspiracy to Commit Immigration Fraud, and three counts of Fraud Relating to Immigration Documents. BRADFORD is an owner of the “Thai Ginger” chain of restaurants in the Greater Seattle area. She pleaded guilty October 23, 2009. U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo S. Martinez told her, “You used your money and position to circumvent the law. This mocks the efforts of immigrants who work hard and wait years to obtain citizenship.”

BRADFORD admits that she recruited U.S. citizens to engage in sham marriages with Thai nationals, so that the citizens of Thailand could obtain legal status to stay in the U.S. The U.S. citizens were paid $20,000 for entering into the sham marriages. In 2002, BRADFORD had a Thai Ginger employee enter into a sham marriage with one of her relatives so that the relative had legal status in the U.S. In 2005, BRADFORD had a Thai Ginger employee enter into a sham marriage with another Thai Ginger employee. BRADFORD paid the U.S. citizen $20,000 for the fraudulent marriage, telling the citizen the marriage only had to last two years. During that same year, BRADFORD set up a second sham marriage for one of her relatives with a U.S. citizen, again paying the citizen $20,000. In 2006, BRADFORD set up another sham marriage, this one for her nephew, a Thai citizen.

In late 2007, BRADFORD told a U.S. citizen who was in fact an undercover ICE agent, that she would pay him $20,000 for entering into a sham marriage. The “wife” in the sham marriage was changed mid-way through the scheme, when the original citizen had to return to Thailand. Nevertheless, BRADFORD introduced the undercover officer to a second Thai national who he was supposed to marry, and counseled him about how to prepare for the immigration interview. BRADFORD agreed to pay $20,000 to the undercover agent for participating in the sham marriage for two years.

In sentencing documents, prosecutors revealed that the U.S. Department of Labor investigated BRADFORD for violations of overtime laws. BRADFORD required her employees to work beyond their shifts without additional compensation. BRADFORD agreed to pay almost $80,000 in back wages to settle the matter. Despite that run-in with federal authorities, BRADFORD “continued to flagrantly ignore the laws, by engaging in the marriage fraud scheme.... She benefitted from the scheme. As a result of some of the fraudulent marriages, Thai Ginger employees were allowed to remain in the United States, saving Defendant the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training new employees,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

Referencing the Department of Labor investigation, Judge Martinez noted that as part of the settlement, BRADFORD and her husband agreed to future compliance with all laws. “American citizens have rights and responsibilities,” the Judge said. “While that response was fresh in her mind, she engaged in the criminal activity that brought her here today.”

“Those who falsely believe our nation’s immigration laws don’t apply to them should take note,” said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge for ICE’s Office of Investigation in Seattle. “Marriage fraud is nothing more than an illegal shortcut to U.S. citizenship and ICE will aggressively investigate those who engage in this activity.”

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jill Otake and Ye-Ting Woo.

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

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