Individuals who operated a sham marriage green card scheme from an “agency” on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles’ Koreatown have been indicted. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles resident orchestrating the scheme, along with his accomplices, arranged and submitted fraudulent green card applications for hundreds of non-citizen immigrants.
Ten co-defendants pleaded guilty last month in this case, with charges of marriage fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The investigation of this large-scale green card fraud scheme began with a complaint from an immigrant residing in Massachusetts.
The agency reportedly submitted sham green card petitions to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for at least 600 non-citizen clients between October 2016 and March 2022. Consequently, many obtained green cards through this fraudulent process.
In connection with the scheme, prosecutors arrested the agency’s head, Marcialito Benitez, 49, and indicted him in April last year. Benitez, a Filipino national, pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and immigration document fraud. Engilbert Ulan, 42, a Filipino employee who worked for Benitez, also pleaded guilty.
The Attorney’s Office states that Benitez masterminded and oversaw the entire marriage fraud scheme, and his employees sought non-citizen immigrants seeking green cards and citizens in need of money and submitted marriage green card applications to USCIS. Benitez’s team also staged counterfeit weddings and took wedding photos to deceive USCIS inspectors.
The defendants allegedly encouraged green card recipients to falsely report domestic violence against their American spouses. They then filed restraining orders against the citizen spouse and encouraged the alleged victim to remain in the country even without support from the spouse under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The non-citizen immigrants who paid for the marriage green card fraud were mostly Brazilian nationals. They paid the agency approximately $25,000 to $30,000 per person. Benitez and his employees pocketed more than $15,000 out of it and paid about $1,700 to the U.S. citizens who signed the marriage.
BY HYOUNGJAE KIM, HOONSIK WOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]