Six Charged In Scheme To Commit Marriage Fraud
The Indictment Is A Formal Accusation Of Criminal Conduct, Not Evidence.
HOUSTON – A total of six Houston residents have been charged in a nine-count indictment alleging their involvement in a marriage fraud scheme involving Nigerian nationals, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson along with Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston.
The indictment was returned under seal Feb. 26, 2015, and unsealed today as Shakietha Ann Joseph, 39, Nathan Michael, 36, Trevor Ray Frenney, 39, and Hauwa Bello, 37, all of Houston, made their initial appearances in federal court. At that time, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy ordered they be detained pending further criminal proceedings.
Anthony Andrews 27, also of Houston – is in state custody on unrelated charges and is expected to make his appearance in federal court in the near future.
A final defendant - Anisha Nicole Gable, 33 – is considered a fugitive and a warrant remains outstanding for her arrest. Anyone with information about her whereabouts is asked to contact HSI at 281-985-0500.
The six defendants allegedly conspired together in connection with a marriage fraud ring involving arranged “sham” marriages between recruited U.S. citizens and Nigerian nationals. A “sham” marriage is a marriage that is entered into for the primary purpose of circumventing the immigration laws.
“Becoming an American citizen is an honor and a privilege,” said Moskowitz. “Obtaining citizenship through fraud is an affront to every person who has played by the rules and it threatens the integrity of our legal immigration system. HSI special agents will continue to work with our partners to ensure that those who use criminal and dishonorable means to achieve the most honorable of goals are brought to justice.”
The indictment alleges conspirators 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 submit them to Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) to obtain legal permanent resident status, according to the indictment. As part of the conspiracy, the indictment further alleges they would take staged photographs of themselves as a couple for documentation of an allegedly meaningful relationship. The conspirators also allegedly 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.
The indictment charges all six with conspiracy commit marriage fraud. Gable is also charged with four counts of aiding and abetting marriage fraud, while Joseph and Frenney are each charged with two counts of the same allegation. Michael and Bello were also indicted on one count of committing marriage fraud.
Gable allegedly recruited Andrews, Frenney and Joseph to marry Nigerian nationals. The indictment further alleges Bello did knowingly marry Frenney, a U.S. citizen for the for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws of the United States. Similarly, Michael allegedly entered into a sham marriage with Joseph, according to the allegations. At the time of their respective marriages, Bello and Michael were natives and citizens of Nigeria and were in the U.S. temporarily on B1/B2 non-immigrant visas.
If convicted on any of the counts as charged, each defendant faces up to five years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine.
The charges are the result of an investigation by HSI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) - Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, Office of Fraud Detection, CIS and the Department of Agriculture - Office of the Inspector General. Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rick Bennett and Mark Evans are prosecuting the case.
All defendants are presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.