10 Arrested In Immigration Scam Probe (Sham Marriages)

10 arrested in immigration scam probe

4 O.C. suspects and 6 from San Gabriel Valley are caught in federal investigation into phony marriages to Chinese men and women.

By H.G. Reza, Times Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Times
July 13, 2007

Ten more suspects have been snared in an ongoing federal investigation into a scam involving Asians willing to pay thousands of dollars to immigrate to this country by entering into phony marriages with U.S. citizens from Vietnamese and Chinese communities in Southern California.

The defendants, who come from the Little Saigon area of Westminster and the San Gabriel Valley, were indicted on charges of posing as spouses in order to petition for green cards for men and women to emigrate from China, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Thursday.

Some suspects had petitioned for as many as 10 spouses, said Frank Johnston, ICE assistant agent in charge in Los Angeles. The arrests are the latest in a five-year investigation called Operation Newlywed Game, which has already resulted in 49 convictions.

Johnston said this kind of scam was relatively easy to get away with until a few years ago, because immigration officials did not have the resources to identify suspects who petitioned for multiple spouses. It is usually easier for foreigners to qualify for a green card, or permanent resident status, if they marry a U.S. citizen.

“They banked on the fact that we were so overburdened that we were not scrutinizing applicants. But now we're placing more emphasis on these investigations,” he said.

Agents are aided by new software called the Fraud Detection and National Security program, which identifies individuals who petition for multiple spouses or children from foreign countries.

The current investigation began after immigration officers noticed the same U.S. citizens listed as petitioners for several spouses from China.

Johnston said the petitioners were recruited by facilitators who trolled Southern California casinos and card clubs looking for men and women who lost large sums of money or appeared to be in need of quick cash. The amount paid to petitioners varied, but Johnston said they could earn as much as $50,000.

ICE officials said facilitators charged as much as $60,000 to arrange phony marriages for foreign nationals with U.S. citizens. None of the 10 suspects charged this week were facilitators. Johnston said he expects more indictments and arrests.

Investigators believe the facilitators worked as a ring, Johnston said. The group used a number of measures to make the marriages look real, including fake wedding photos, love letters and phony tax returns.

Four suspects are from Little Saigon and the others are from the San Gabriel Valley. Eight are of Vietnamese descent, one is a Chinese American and one is Indonesian. Two of the 10 are women.

Those indicted are My Phuong Vu Nguyen, 25; Sony Nguyen, 57; Buu Van Tu, 42; and Harrison Le, 58, of Little Saigon; and Mau Ly, 60; Hugh Ly, 55; Luther Tedja, 46; Raymond Trieu, 48; Luong Khoa Ly, 55; and Bao Kun Li, 48, of the San Gabriel Valley.