Ringleader convicted in immigration scam that offered fake marriages for $70,000
HOUSTON – A 55-year-old woman has admitted guilt for her role in at least 40 sham marriages that charged foreigners up to $70,000 and often provided a fake wedding album to help obtain legal permanent resident status, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
Ashley Yen Nguyen aka Duyen was the group’s ringleader. Today, she admitted she ran the criminal organization out of the Southwest Houston area but had associates operating across the state and in Vietnam. As part of her plea, she admitted to conspiring to engage in marriage fraud, mail fraud, immigration fraud, money laundering and making false statements in a tax return.
At times, Nguyen falsely represented herself as an attorney. She also admitted to arranging at least 40 sham marriages in which a Vietnamese national would pay her group $50,000 to $70,000 to marry a wife or husband in the United States to fraudulently obtain lawful permanent resident status. Nguyen issued routine payments of approximately $200 to those U.S. citizens who participated in the fake immigration proceedings.
Nguyen acknowledged the fake spouses did not live together and did not intend to live together, contrary to documents and statements submitted to federal authorities. At her instruction, the spouses only met briefly, immediately before they obtained their marriage license or not at all. The spouses entered into the marriage pursuant to a financial arrangement for the primary purpose of circumventing U.S. immigration laws.
The criminal organization even prepared and provided fake wedding albums containing photographs to make it appear as if they had a wedding ceremony above and beyond a marriage at a courthouse. Following the arrangement, the group also submitted fabricated paperwork to authorities including tax, utility and employment information in order to help their clients gain entry and residency into the country.
To prepare the fake spouses for their interviews with immigration officials, Nguyen and her criminal organization provided fabricated facts to the fake spouses to study and recite details to falsely establish the pair was living together and familiar with each other’s daily habits.
Nguyen purchased multiple residences with the criminal proceeds. She used them as part of the scheme to either collect, distribute the proceeds and/or stage some of the rooms for the times when authorities indicated they would conduct a site inspection. The rooms were setup to appear as if they belonged to the fake spouses. The investigation revealed approximately 500 sham marriages in addition to the ones that were charged in the indictment.
Nguyen pled guilty to three counts for her role in running the marriage fraud scheme as well as a count to false statements in tax returns and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt will impose sentencing at a later date. At that time, she faces up to 20 years in prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and IRS – Criminal Investigation conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Laurence Goldman, Michael Day and Kate Suh are prosecuting the case.