BOSTON – A Los Angeles man was convicted on Thursday by a federal jury in Boston for his role in operating a large-scale marriage fraud “agency” that arranged hundreds of sham marriages entered into for the primary purpose of circumventing immigration laws.
Engilbert Ulan, 42, a Philippine national residing in Los Angeles, was convicted of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and immigration document fraud. U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper scheduled sentencing for March 6, 2024. Ulan was arrested and charged along with 10 others in April 2022 in connection with the marriage fraud “agency” operated by Marcialito “Mars” Benitez.
“Mr. Ulan played a key role in operating a fraudulent marriage “agency” that arranged over 300 sham marriages that aimed to subvert immigration laws. It was a systematic fraud on the U.S. government.” said Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy. “Marriage fraud is a serious offense that undermines the foundation of our nation’s immigration system. Mr. Ulan and his co-conspirators not only exploited our immigration system for personal gain, but also compromised the United States’ principles of welcoming immigrants and prospective citizens. The swift and decisive enforcement action taken in this case reflects our commitment to preserving the integrity of the immigration process and upholding the values that have defined this nation.”
“It is the utmost honor and privilege to become an American citizen, but Engilbert Ulan made an absolute sham of that process. Mr. Ulan and his co-conspirators broke immigration laws that are in place to protect public safety and created an unfair disadvantage for those seeking to earn their citizenship lawfully,” said Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division. “Today’s conviction should serve as a warning to others that the FBI and our law enforcement partners are united in our efforts to disrupt and dismantle large-scale criminal enterprises like this one that seek to circumvent our laws by fraudulent means.”
“For six years, this fraudster made thousands of dollars by operating a fake agency aimed at creating marriage fraud,” said Chad Plantz, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego. “The sham marriages and illicit immigration benefits discovered in this case wasted countless federal resources which delayed an unknown number of legitimate marriages between foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, and threatened national security by enabling individuals to remain in the country through deceit. HSI and our partnered agencies will dismantle organizations that look to exploit our nation’s immigration system.”
Ulan worked for what he and others referred to as an “agency” that arranged hundreds of sham marriages between foreign national “clients” and United States citizens, including at least one foreign national who resided in Massachusetts. The agency then prepared and submitted false petitions, applications and other documents to substantiate the sham marriages and secure adjustment of clients’ immigration statuses for a fee of between $20,000 and $30,000 in cash.
After pairing foreign national clients with citizen spouses, the agency booked appointments to stage fake wedding ceremonies at chapels, parks and other locations, performed by hired online officiants. For many clients, the agency would take photos of undocumented clients and citizen spouses in front of prop wedding decorations for later submission with immigration petitions.
Evidence presented at trial established that, starting in or around 2019, Ulan worked out of brick-and-mortar offices in Los Angeles with Benitez and other co-conspirators. Among other things, Ulan conducted practice interviews with the agency’s clients and their fake spouses for the purpose of preparing the couples to pass required interviews with immigration authorities. Ulan coached the sham couples to provide the same, fabricated answers to questions posed during green card interviews and conceal the fraudulent nature of the marriages.
Ulan assisted clients with preparing fraudulent marriage and immigration documents, including fabricating supporting documents submitted as “evidence” of the marriage’s legitimacy. Ulan also rented out the use of his apartment address to clients who lived outside of Los Angeles so they could list his address as their own on green card applications and related documents, to make it appear to immigration authorities that they were living with their sham spouses in the Los Angeles area. Ulan also received cash commissions for referring new clients to the agency.
During Ulan’s involvement in the conspiracy, between approximately December 2019 and March 2022, the agency arranged sham marriages and submitted fraudulent immigration documents for over 300 clients.
Ulan is the 10th defendant to be convicted in this case, with nine of his co-defendants having pleaded guilty. Benitez pleaded guilty on Sept. 27, 2023 and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 10, 2024.
The charge of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and immigration document fraud provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.
Acting U.S. Attorney Levy, FBI SAC Cohen, HSI SAC Plantz and Alanna Ow, Director of U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, San Diego District made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys David M. Holcomb and Leslie A. Wright of the Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit are prosecuting the case.