Jury Convicts Leader of Marriage Fraud Ring and Two Others
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas
HOUSTON - Three Houston residents have been found guilty after a five-day jury trial for conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, aiding/abetting marriage fraud, marriage fraud, theft of government funds and false statements, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez along with Special Agent in Charge Mark B. Dawson of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston, District Director Tony Bryson of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) – District 33, and Special Agent in Charge Dax Roberson of U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General – Investigations.
The federal jury deliberated for approximately four hours before convicting Nigerian citizens Folarin H. Alabi, 35, and Justice Daniel, 41, and U.S. citizen Letrishia Andrews, 37, all of Houston, of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Alabi was the leader of the conspiracy and also convicted of aiding and abetting marriage fraud. Daniel was further convicted of one count of marriage fraud, while the jury also convicted Andrews of aiding and abetting marriage fraud, theft of government funds and false statements related to her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applications.
The verdicts bring to a total 11 defendants now convicted in two separate, but related, cases of marriage fraud in a scheme involving Nigerian nationals.
Eight others had previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme – Nigerian citizen Ifeoma Adamolekun, 40, and U.S. Citizen Charles R. Warren, 44, in the Alabi case as well as Anisha Gable, 35, Anthony Andrews, 29, Shakietha Joseph, 41 and Trevor Frenney, 41 all of Houston; and Nigerian citizens Michael Nathan, 38, and Hauwa Bello, 39, all of whom also resided in Houston.
A “sham” marriage is a marriage that is entered into for the primary purpose of circumventing the immigration laws. All 11 defendants conspired together in connection with a marriage fraud ring involving arranging “sham” marriages between recruited U.S. citizens and recruited Nigerian nationals. Evidence at trial revealed Alabi would search for and recruit Nigerian nationals at nightclubs.
The defendants would pay U.S. citizens for entering into fraudulent marriages to Nigerian nationals who had originally entered the country on tourist visas. The conspirators would then complete immigration documents and falsely submit them to CIS to obtain legal permanent resident status. As part of the conspiracy, the defendants would take staged photographs of themselves as a couple for documentation of an allegedly meaningful relationship. The conspirators also coached the recruits and/or the Nigerian nationals on what to say when questioned or interviewed by law enforcement or immigration officials about the legitimate nature of the marriages.
At trial, the government presented evidence that Alabi recruited Nigerian nationals, including Daniel, to enter into “sham” marriages with U.S. citizens to deceive immigration authorities and ultimately gain lawful permanent status in the Unites States. The evidence proved Daniel did knowingly marry Andrews, a U.S. citizen for the for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws of the United States. At the time of this conspiracy, Alabi and Daniel were citizens of Nigeria and had entered the U.S. temporarily on non-immigrant visas.
The jury also heard that Andrews submitted false SNAP applications claiming to be single, while at the same time, filing sworn immigration documents claiming to be married to Daniel.
The defense attempted to convince the jury that Andrews and Daniel had marital issues but were in a legitimate marriage despite all the documents and testimony to the contrary. The jury did not believe their claims and found them guilty as charged.
Each defendant faces up to five years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine on the conspiracy and marriage fraud counts. Andrews also faces an additional five years for the false statements as well as a maximum of 10 years for theft of government funds. Sentencing is set for Aug. 3, 2017. All will remain in custody pending that hearing.
HSI, CIS - Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate conducted the joint investigation along with Department of Agriculture - Office of the Inspector General. The agencies work together on the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force which was established to combat these types of crimes where fraudulent representations are made to multiple government agencies. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rick Bennett and Julie Searle prosecuted the case.
Updated April 26, 2017