Naturalized U.S. Citizen and Las Cruces Resident Sentenced for Federal Marriage Fraud Conviction
ALBUQUERQUE – Yesterday afternoon in federal court in Las Cruces, N.M., Yi Lee and Santiago Aveles were sentenced for their convictions on felony charges arising out of a scheme to obtain immigration status for foreign nationals through fraudulent marriages. Lee was sentenced to six months in prison followed by six months of home confinement and three years of supervised release. Lee also was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. Aveles was sentenced to a three year term of probation and ordered to pay a $2,500 fine.
“U.S. citizenship is not for sale,” said U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson. “Those who commit marriage fraud damage the integrity of our immigration system. My Office is committed to enforcing these laws to ensure that those who abuse the process do not cause harm or jeopardize the opportunities for lawful immigration.”
“This case demonstrates HSI’s commitment to protecting the integrity of our immigration system. Individuals attempting to obtain benefits through fraud will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Jack P. Staton, Acting Special Agent in Charge of HSI El Paso. “I commend the hard work by all involved in bringing this case to a successful conclusion.”
Lee, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in Albuquerque, N.M., and Aveles, 31, of Las Cruces, and four co-defendants, Chia-Jung Chang, 39, Dan Zheng, 33, Lian Xiang Deng, 42, and Xiao-Yin Le, 50, all Chinese nationals illegally in the United States, were indicted on April 19, 2017. The indictment charged the six defendants with participating in a conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. The indictment also charged Aveles and Zheng with committing marriage fraud for the purpose of evading the federal immigration laws.
According to the indictment, from June 2016 through March 2017, the defendants conspired to obtain immigration status for foreign nationals by having U.S. citizens enter into fraudulent marriages with foreign nationals in exchange for money. The indictment alleged that Lee facilitated the conspiracy by arranging meetings between foreign nationals and U.S. citizens and assisting them in obtaining marriage licenses, working permits and green cards for the foreign nationals who paid Lee and the U.S. citizens. It further alleged that Lee attempted to arrange fraudulent marriages between certain of his co-defendants and undercover law enforcement agents.
On Oct. 23, 2017, Lee pled guilty to Count 1 of the indictment charging him with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. In entering the guilty plea, Lee admitted that from Jan. 2016 through May 2017, he recruited United States citizens including Aveles and other individuals who unbeknownst to Lee were undercover law enforcement agents to enter into fraudulent marriages with foreign nationals for the purpose of evading immigration laws. According to the plea agreement, Lee told the sham marriage participants to document their respective relationships by taking photos together, exchanging messages, opening joint bank accounts, renting properties together and having bills put under both participants’ names. Lee also admitted that he assisted the participants with immigration paperwork and in passing off the fraudulent marriages as legitimate during interviews with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In entering the guilty plea, Lee admitted that he coordinated a payment schedule for the United States citizens participating in the fraudulent marriages, who were to receive payments after taking certain steps such as obtaining a marriage license, participating in a fraudulent marriage, submitting paperwork, and participating in interviews. Lee further admitted that each United States citizen participant was to be paid, and Lee also received payment for his role in the conspiracy in return for citizenship for the foreign nationals.
On Aug. 4, 2017, Aveles pled guilty to a felony information charging him with conspiracy and marriage fraud. In entering the guilty plea, Aveles admitted that from Jan. 2016 through April 30, 2017, he and others conspired to commit marriage fraud. Aveles also admitted that he entered into a sham marriage for the purpose of evading immigration laws and in exchange for a monetary payment.
Zheng pled guilty and was sentenced on Aug. 28, 2017. Chang pled guilty and was sentenced on Dec. 11, 2017. Charges against Deng were dismissed on July 25, 2017. Le has yet to be arrested and is considered a fugitive. Charges in indictments are merely accusations, and all criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was investigated by the Las Cruces office of HSI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dustin C. Segovia and Marisa A. Ong of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office.