Trial Opens For N.Y. Marriage Scam Based on "Deceit and Lies"

Trial opens for New York marriage scam based on 'deceit and lies'

The Associated Press
Published: August 7, 2007

NEW YORK: Hundreds of people not entitled to stay in the United States won permanent residency through a sophisticated marriage scam that relied on a corrupt former U.S. immigration official, a prosecutor said as a trial for one of the defendants began.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Wong accused Peter Absolam of helping people obtain immigration documents “based on fraud and deceit and lies.”

In the scheme, U.S. citizens were paid to marry someone who otherwise could not qualify for permanent residency, the prosecutor said Tuesday.

“Some met their spouse only once, some not at all,” Wong said.

The government said immigrants paid up to $16,000 (11,599) to participate.

Of the 29 people originally charged in the case, 24 have pleaded guilty.

Wong said Absolam's role was discovered when one of his potential customers reported it to government investigators, leading to a charge of conspiracy to obtain immigration documents by false pretenses.

Absolam's conversations with the customer were recorded, forming the basis of the case against him and demonstrating that the fraud from April 2001 through November 2005 produced as much as $1 million from fees paid by immigrants, Wong said.

Through the FBI recordings and the work of the informant, investigators learned the scam relied on a New York City financial and legal aid business owned by Beverly Mozer-Browne and the help of her brother, Phillip A. Browne, a U.S. immigration office worker, she said.

Browne eased approval of phony applications by generating green cards without the required interview, prosecutors said.

Browne and Mozer-Browne have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

Absolam lawyer Ellyn I. Bank told jurors they will have to decide whether her client was a knowing participant in a fraud.

Absolam could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.