Two Essex County Women Charged in Sham Marriage Immigration Scheme
NEWARK, N.J. – Two Essex County, New Jersey, women were indicted today in connection with a scheme to arrange sham marriages between U.S. citizens and non-citizens seeking to stay in the United States unlawfully, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.
Sisters Andrea Torres, 55, and Regina Johnson, 57, of Newark, were both charged by indictment with one count of conspiracy to encourage and induce non-citizens to remain in the United States illegally. They had been previously charged by complaint with the same offense. Torres and Johnson will be arraigned at a later date.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
From September 2016 to July 2019, Torres and Johnson devised and participated in a fraudulent scheme to arrange and facilitate sham marriages for non-citizens who wished to remain in the United States despite lacking legal status or the proper documentation. They recruited U.S. citizen as potential spouses and paid them a fee in exchange for those U.S. citizens entering into sham marriages with Torres’ and Johnson’s non-citizen clients. Torres and Johnson arranged for the “couples” to obtain fraudulent marriage licenses and even arranged and charged their clients for wedding ceremonies and afterparties that were staged to make the sham marriages appear legitimate. Torres and Johnson advised their clients on ways to make their marriage appear legitimate on paper, including the opening of joint bank accounts and frequent meetings with their U.S. spouses – where they were advised to take pictures in a variety of locations and in different clothing – to document the relationship and give the appearance of cohabitation, even though none of the clients ever resided or intended to reside with their U.S. spouses. Torres and Johnson then helped their non-citizen clients fill out immigration forms to obtain permanent residency on the basis of materially false misrepresentations.
The charge in the indictment carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the pecuniary gain or loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greatest.
U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jason J. Molina in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s indictment.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sammi Malek of the National Security Unit in Newark.
The charge and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.