Ninety-six people have been criminally charged and 50 taken into law enforcement custody in connection with a large-scale alleged marriage fraud scheme based out of Houston.
What are the details?
According to a news release issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the alleged conspiracy involved operatives throughout the state of Texas and the Republic of Vietnam. So-called beneficiary spouses would purportedly pay $50,000 to $70,000 to marry a U.S. citizen for the sole purpose of gaining full U.S. permanent resident status.
The Daily Caller reported that the posing brides and grooms involved "typically met only briefly before they obtained their marriage licenses and did not live together after becoming a 'married' couple."
Individuals involved are accused of creating fake wedding albums in order to make the unions appear legitimate, and providing false tax "and employment information to help ensure [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] would approve the false immigration forms."
Investigators believe the mastermind behind the operation was Ashley Yen Nguyen, 53, who ran the scam out of her home. She and others named in the 206-count federal grand jury indictment allegedly recruited American citizens to act as "spouses" to Vietnamese nationals in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.
Nguyen's defense attorney, Mar Carter, maintains his client is innocent. After Nguyen's initial court appearance Monday, her lawyer told KFSN-TV, "She has essentially become part of this indictment because she's helped people."
Carter continued "The government in these detention hearings always try to make these salacious kind of statements and arguments. They were also making a point to let the judge know she is a naturalized citizen that is somehow less than someone born here."
Nguyen and her common-law husband were not granted bond, and were ordered to be held pending trial.
ICE reported that the criminal charges handed down by the grand jury after a yearlong investigation include "47 counts of marriage fraud; 50 counts of mail fraud; 51 counts of immigration fraud; [and] 51 counts of false statements under oath in a matter relating to registry of aliens."
The charges listed carry maximum federal prison terms ranging from 5 to 20 years.