A shocking new report in the Marine Corps Times by Hope Hodge entitled, “Getting Hitched for Benefits, Not Love,” alleges that sham marriages are an “open secret” in the Marine Corps.

Contract unions — marriages in which parties likely don’t know one another well, yet decide to marry for the sake of additional income and benefits — are generally entered into solely for the purposes of personal gain.

While some Marines are caught trying to play the system, others go undetected, opening them up to unfettered access to a massive benefits package that is meant for individuals who enter into legitimate marriages.

The outlet highlighted one particularly-troubling case in which the parties involved were found out. Cpl. Donald A. Mitchem and Stella Agyaakoa Ampofo got married on the same day they met in New Bern, N.C. last year. One of Mitchem‘s fellow squadron members, Cpl. Michael Tuafo, set the two up. It was anything but your average relationship. 

Marine Corps Times Reports on Sham Marriages and the Benefits That Are Received in the Military

Female Marine recruits stand in line while they wait for a dental examination on their first full day of boot camp on February 26, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Credit: Getty Images

According to the Marine Corps Times, Tuafo, a native of Ghana, came to the U.S. in 2008 and later joined the Marines. With deep connections to Ghanaian foreign nationals, he setup a system in which he would find them spouses; these individuals would pay to marry a Marine in exchange for a green card.

In July 2012, Tuafo inevitably admitted to arranging at least seven other marriages similar to Mitchem and Agyaakoa’s. To provide an example of the lucrative nature of the agreement to all parties involved, Mitchem was promised $4,000 to marry the woman ($2,500 up front and an additional $1,500 once the green card came through).

Those soliders who engage in these agreements are entitled to additional monies as well. Once they provide a valid marriage license, they’re eligible for the Basic Allowance for Housing, a monthly sum that is added to their salaries. This is intended to help offset the cost of off-base accommodations, something that is much-needed for many legitimate married couples.

And it isn’t pocket change. Depending on the cost of living, the sum is $1,100 per month in some places and $2,000 in others. In addition to these funds, Mitchem was able to collect $350 per month for food, as married individuals aren’t expected to eat in the mess halls. Plus, an additional $250 per month was afforded for a hardship cost the couple were eligible for (Ampofo lived nearly 350 miles away in Fairfax, Va., so they were compensated for the distance), the Marine Corps Times reports.

In the end, it’s not only financial benefits that abound. These Marines aren’t living on base, they have more freedom and they can enjoy meals outside of mess halls. All-in-all, married men seemingly have it better than their single counterparts, which provides those looking to game the system with an even greater motivation.

For Mitchem, his purported exploitation of these benefits eventually caught up with him. In July 2012, the military caught onto Tuafo’s scheme and he subsequently admitted to arranging marriages. While he pled “not guilty,” he was the first in the marriage ring to do so.

Marine Corps Times Reports on Sham Marriages and the Benefits That Are Received in the Military

Photo Credit: AP

The Marine Corps Times notes that this phenomenon extends well beyond Tuafo’s plan, as it’s practically institutionalized. Ads on Craigslist in nearby Jacksonville, N.C., (Camp Lejuene is in this area) expose some military personnel and local women who are more than open about their urge to enter into a contract marriage.

TheBlaze explored Craigslist and, sure enough, people are, indeed, seeking out contract marriages. Consider one poster who wrote, “Whatever happened to the good ol’ days when a Marine wanting a Contract marriage could simply talk to an attractive lady and have a relationship based on the ol’ ‘You take care of me, I take care of you?’”

In a separate message that isn’t necessarily military-related, a woman wrote, “I am seriously looking to get married. CM [contract marriage] is fine with me as long as there is the potential to it leading to something great. I have never been married before and want to try.”

In an e-mail to the Marine Corps Times, Pentagon Marine spokesperson Capt. Eric Flanagan said that perpetrators are typically caught in the act of defrauding the system while being investigated for other, unrelated issues. He also noted that some witness do occasionally come forward, blowing the lit off of these faux marriages.

But for those seeking better checks and balances, Flanagan’s comments likely won’t give you solace.

“I am not aware of any system in place to audit for fraudulent marriage,” he wrote. “Additionally, I cannot think of any way to conduct such an ‘audit’ since, in these cases, the marriage is generally legitimate, and the [guilt of the accused  depends on whether the marriage was solely for the purpose of obtaining government benefits, or whether the accused intended to ‘establish a life together and assume certain duties and obligations.’”

His point: It’s all conjecture, which makes targeting offenders and determining guilt extremely difficult.

In Mitchem’s case, he was inevitably found guilty of violating the statute against immigration fraud. While he’s permitted to stay in the Corps, he’s obviously been stripped of the added benefits (despite being legally married still). Additionally, he received a reduction in rank to private, the loss of $1,010 for three months, confinement to base for two months, a $500 fine and hard labor.

Naturally, this sparks a separate debate around whether paying more to people who marry is a good idea. After all, individuals enter into unions for a variety of reasons, money being one of them.

(H/T: The Marine Corps Times)