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02-11-2013, 05:24 PM #1
2 in Chicago area indicted in alleged marriage fraud conspiracy
February 11, 2013
2 in Chicago area indicted in alleged marriage fraud conspiracy
CHICAGO — A suburban immigration consultant is among two defendants arrested last week after being indicted for allegedly conspiring to arrange sham marriages to evade immigration laws and enable foreign nationals to illegally become U.S. permanent residents. The pair allegedly arranged at least four fraudulent marriages and attempted to arrange a fifth between a foreign national and an undercover special agent who was posing as a private U.S. citizen.
These charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and its partner agencies on the Chicago Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, which includes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Fraud Detection and National Security Unit.
Teresita Zarrabian, 60, a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in Des Plaines, and Michael Smith, 41, a U.S. citizen residing in Bellwood, were charged in a seven-count indictment that was returned Jan. 31 and unsealed when they were arrested Feb. 7. They are each charged with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, marriage fraud and visa fraud. Zarrabian, the owner of Zarrabian and Associates, an immigration consulting business in Arlington Heights, was also charged with obstructing justice.
Zarrabian and Smith pleaded not guilty when they appeared Thursday and Friday, respectively, in district court. They were released on their own recognizance.
"Marriage fraud is a serious crime that exploits our nation's immigration system and poses a vulnerability to our security," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of HSI Chicago. "HSI will continue its efforts to identify and arrest individuals whose actions show a complete disregard for U.S. immigration laws, which undermines the legitimate immigration process."
According to the indictment, between 2005 and 2012, Zarrabian assisted foreign-born clients to complete the necessary forms to become U.S. permanent residents based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. Clients paid Zarrabian between $8,000 and $15,000 in exchange for arranging fraudulent marriages to U.S. citizens recruited by Zarrabian and Smith, the charges allege.
Foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens legitimately may lawfully become U.S. permanent residents, but not if the marriage is a sham to evade immigration laws.
Zarrabian allegedly paid Smith a portion of the money she received from foreign-born clients for Smith's recruited U.S. citizen spouses. In turn, Zarrabian allegedly promised to pay about $5,000 to the U.S. citizen spouses for their participation in a sham marriage. Both defendants arranged to have individuals travel to Las Vegas for a fraudulent wedding and also took photos of the "couple" and other steps to create the false impression that the sham marriages were legitimate.
Zarrabian also met with the couples and told them what actions they needed to take to make their marriages appear legitimate during marriage interviews with officials, according to the indictment.
The obstruction count alleges that Zarrabian attempted to persuade a U.S. citizen involved in a fraudulent marriage from communicating information to law enforcement.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Iweagwu, Northern District of Illinois, is prosecuting the case.
Conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and each count of marriage fraud carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Visa fraud carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The obstruction count against Zarrabian carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
ICE is a 21st century law enforcement agency with broad responsibilities for a number of key homeland security priorities. For more information, visit www.ICE.gov. To report suspicious activity, call 1-866-347-2423 or complete our tip form.
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02-11-2013, 11:38 PM #2
2 charged with arranging sham marriages for immigrants
By Naomi Nix
1:13 p.m. CST, February 11, 2013
A Des Plaines woman and a Bellwood man have been arrested on charges of trying to help immigrants gain U.S. legal residency by arranging fraudulent marriages in Las Vegas and Illinois in exchange for up to $17,000.
Teresita Zarrabian, 60, and Michael Smith, 41, allegedly arranged at least four fraudulent marriages and tried to arrange a fifth between an immigrant and an undercover, U.S. Attorney's office said Monday in a news release.
Zarrabian, of Des Plaines, and Smith, of Bellwood, were each charged in an indictment with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, marriage fraud and visa fraud.
Zarrabian, who owns an immigration consultant business in Arlington Heights, was also charged with obstruction of justice after she allegedly tried to persuade a U.S. citizen involved in a fraudulent marriage not to communicate information to law enforcement.
Both pleaded not guilty in federal court on Thursday and Friday, and were released on their own recognizance, according to federal prosecutors.
Between 2005 and 2012, Zarrabian and Smith recruited U.S. citizens to marry immigrants, authorities said.
Foreign-born nationals sought Zarrabian's help to become legal permanent residents through her immigration consultant business, Zarrabian and Associates, the indictment alleges.
The immigrants would pay Zarrabian between $5,000 and $15,000 to arrange the sham marriages and help them compete the necessary forms to become legal permanent residents.
Zarrabian paid Smith some of the money she got from her clients. She also promised to pay the U.S. citizens $5,000 for agreeing to the marriages.
The scheme began when, in 2005, Zarrabian arranged for one of her clients to marry Smith in exchange for $17,000, according to the indictment.
Both defendants arranged for clients to travel to Las Vegas to participate in fake weddings, complete with wedding photos of the sham couples taken by Zarrabian and Smith, prosecutors said in a news release.
Zarrabian also coached the couples on what they needed to do to make their marriages look real so they would pass muster with immigration officials, such as telling them to say they lived together and shared finances, according to the indictment.
Each count of marriage fraud carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while the visa fraud carries a maxium penalty of 10 years in prison. The obstruction count against Zarrabian carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The scheme was exposed after Zarrabian tried to arrange a fraudulent marriage between a foreign-born national and an undercover agent in 2010, the indictment said. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Chicago Document and Benefit Fraud Task force.
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