December 1, 2022

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Ringleader sentenced in immigration scam that offered fake marriages for $70,000

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HOUSTON – A 58-year-old woman has been sentenced to federal prison for her role in at least 40 sham marriages, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

Ashley Yen Nguyen aka Duyen was the group’s ringleader and also often provided a fake wedding album to help people obtain legal permanent resident status. She pleaded guilty Nov. 5, 2020.

Today, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt ordered her to serve 120 months in federal prison to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. She was also ordered to pay $334,605 in fines.

The court ruled that Nguyen utilized mass-marketing to facilitate the scheme by advertising it through recruiters and Facebook. Nguyen had also claimed to be an attorney who had contacts within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) so as to make the scheme appear legitimate. 

At the hearing, the court heard that Vietnamese nationals would give Nguyen’s group $50,000 to $70,000 to marry a wife or husband in the United States to fraudulently obtain lawful permanent resident status. Nguyen issued routine payments of approximately $200 to those U.S. citizens who acted as recruiters in the fake immigration proceedings. Nguyen also promised the U.S. citizens who participated as spouses between $15,000 and $20,000 in installments, although few ever came close to getting the full amount. 

“For more than four years, this individual raked in millions by operating one of the largest marriage fraud conspiracies in U.S. history,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson, Homeland Security Investigations in Houston. “The sham marriages and improper immigration benefits that were fraudulently secured under this criminal conspiracy wasted countless federal resources, delayed an unknown number of legitimate marriages between foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, and threatened national security by enabling individuals to remain in the country through deceit.

“As experts in investigating all types of financial crimes, IRS-Criminal Investigation (CI) special agents worked with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to put a stop to this criminal network, not just from committing tax fraud and money laundering, but from also circumventing our nation’s immigration laws said IRS-CI’s Special Agent in Charge Ramsey E. Covington of the Houston Field Office. “We leverage our ability to follow the money trail in order to bring down criminal conspiracies like the one Nguyen led.”

Nguyen ran the marriage fraud organization out of the Southwest Houston area but had associates operating across Texas and in Vietnam. As part of her plea, she admitted to conspiring to engage in marriage fraud, mail fraud, immigration fraud, money laundering and making false statements in a tax return.

Nguyen’s criminal organization was responsible for organizing well over 500 sham marriages in exchange for substantial amounts of money solely for the alien beneficiary to obtain immigration benefits. The criminal organization has received over $15 million from this scheme. 

Nguyen used well over a dozen recruiters of U.S. citizen spouses in the Houston vicinity and advertised via social media about the scheme in Vietnam.  Many of the U.S. citizens had extensive criminal histories, gang associations and crippling drug additions.

During her plea, Nguyen acknowledged the fake spouses did not live together and did not intend to live together, contrary to documents and statements submitted to federal authorities. At her instruction, the spouses only met briefly, immediately before they obtained their marriage license or not at all. To prepare the fake spouses for their interviews with immigration officials, Nguyen and her criminal organization provided fabricated facts to the fake spouses to study and recite details to falsely establish the pair was living together and familiar with each other’s daily habits.

The criminal organization even prepared and provided fake wedding albums containing photographs to make it appear as if they had a wedding ceremony above and beyond a marriage at a courthouse.

Nguyen purchased multiple residences with the criminal proceeds. She used them as part of the scheme to either collect, distribute the proceeds and/or stage some of the rooms for the times when authorities indicated they would conduct a site inspection. The rooms were setup to appear as if they belonged to the fake spouses.

Nguyen herself also entered the United States through a sham marriage.

Nguyen will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

HSI, USCIS and IRS-CI conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Laurence Goldman, Michael Day and Kate Suh are prosecuting the case.

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