Two Defendants Indicted In Alleged Sham Marriage Conspiracy To Illegally Enable Legal U.S. Residence
CHICAGO – A suburban immigration consultant is among two defendants who were arrested after being indicted for allegedly conspiring to arrange fraudulent marriages to evade immigration laws and enable foreign nationals to illegally become U.S. legal permanent residents. The pair allegedly arranged at least four fraudulent marriages and attempted to arrange a fifth between foreign national and undercover agent who was posing as a U.S. citizen.
TERESITA ZARRABIAN, 60, of Des Plaines, a naturalized U.S. citizen who owns Zarrabian and Associates, an immigration consulting business in Arlington Heights, and MICHAEL SMITH, 41, of Bellwood, a U.S. citizen, were each charged with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, marriage fraud and visa fraud, and Zarrabian was also charged with obstruction of justice in a seven-count indictment that was returned on Jan. 31 and unsealed when they were arrested last Thursday.
Zarrabian and Smith pleaded not guilty when they appeared Thursday and Friday, respectively, in U.S. District Court and were released on their own recognizance.
The indictment and arrests were announced today by Gary S. Shapiro, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Gary J. Hartwig, Special Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Chicago. The charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and its partner agencies on the Chicago Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Fraud Detection and National Security Unit.
“Marriage fraud is a serious crime that exploits our nation’s immigration system and poses a vulnerability to our security,” Mr. Hartwig said. “HSI will continue its efforts to identify and arrest individuals whose actions allegedly show a complete disregard for U.S. immigration laws and undermine the legitimate immigration process.”
According to the indictment, between 2005 and 2012, Zarrabian assisted foreign-born clients complete the necessary forms to become legal permanent residents on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen. Clients paid Zarrabian between $8,000 and $15,000 in exchange for arranging fraudulent marriages to U.S. citizens recruited by Zarrabian and Smith, the charges allege. Foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens legitimately may become legal permanent residents of the United States but not if the marriage was a sham solely to evade immigration laws.
Zarrabian allegedly paid Smith a portion of the money she received from foreign national clients for Smith’s recruitment of U.S. citizen spouses. In turn, Zarrabian allegedly promised to pay approximately $5,000 to the U.S. citizen spouses for their participation in a sham marriage. Both defendants arranged to have individuals travel to Las Vegas for a fraudulent wedding and also took photos of the “couple” and other steps to create the false impression that the sham marriages were legitimate. Zarrabian also met with the couples and told them what actions they needed to take to make their marriages appear legitimate during marriage interviews with officials, according to the indictment.
The obstruction count alleges that Zarrabian attempted to persuade a U.S. citizen involved in a fraudulent marriage from communicating information to law enforcement.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Iweagwu.
Conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and each count of marriage fraud carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Visa fraud carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and the obstruction count against Zarrabian carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.