Four Philippine Nationals Sentenced for $8 Million Sham Marriage Scheme in Los Angeles

Four Philippine Nationals Sentenced for  Million Sham Marriage Scheme in Los Angeles

Four Philippine nationals residing in Los Angeles have been handed down sentences in federal court for orchestrating an elaborate $8 million scam involving over 600 fraudulent marriages. The scheme aimed to bypass immigration laws and obtain green cards for undocumented clients by falsely claiming abuse by their American spouses. The operation, which ran from October 2016 to March 2022, was masterminded by Marcialito Biol Benitez, 50, who received a 22-month prison sentence and three years of supervised release. Co-defendants Engilbert Ulan, 43, and Juanita Pacson, 48, were sentenced to 14 months in prison and four months of house arrest followed by two years of supervised release, respectively. Nino Valmeo, 47, another co-defendant, received six months of home detention and three years of supervised release. All four individuals were convicted in 2023 on charges of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and immigration document fraud.

The scam involved the operation of a phony marriage agency at the headquarters of Career Ad Management, a temporary staffing agency located in Koreatown near downtown Los Angeles. Benitez and his associates identified potential clients through referrals and word of mouth, with one former client alone referring 25 new clients primarily from Brazil. Benitez paid approximately $2,500 for each referral. Prospective clients were required to pay between $20,000 and $30,000 during introductory meetings held at the Career Ad Management office and other locations.

To facilitate the fraudulent marriages, brokers working for Benitez recruited around 200 spouses between October 2020 and December 2021. These brokers collected personal information, including photos, birth certificates, Social Security cards, and driver’s licenses, which Benitez used to prepare counterfeit marriage and immigration documents. False tax returns were also filed for prospective spouses to be submitted alongside immigration petitions.

Once potential spouses were identified, Benitez arranged meetings to assess compatibility and ensure the marriages would not raise suspicions with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The defendants organized sham ceremonies held at chapels and parks, with brokers taking the spouses shopping for appropriate wedding attire. Online wedding officiants were hired to perform the fake ceremonies, and photos were taken of the couples in front of prop wedding decorations.

For clients residing outside of California, Benitez arranged for them to rent physical addresses and mailboxes belonging to his associates. He also advised clients on maintaining the appearance of legitimate marriages, assisting them with joint bank accounts, vehicle registration, life insurance policies, and joint tax returns. Photo sessions were staged at Career Ad Management, featuring clients and spouses in front of artwork to create photographic evidence of their relationship.

Benitez and his associates provided coaching sessions to prepare clients and spouses for USCIS interviews, supplying practice questions to prove the authenticity of their marriages. In some instances, Benitez became upset when a spouse admitted to receiving payment for entering into an arranged marriage during a USCIS interview.

When spouses became unresponsive or unavailable for immigration interviews, Benitez and his staff assisted clients in obtaining green cards under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by submitting fraudulent forms. They helped clients seek temporary restraining orders in Los Angeles Superior Court, falsely claiming domestic violence by spouses. The temporary restraining order documentation was then submitted to the USCIS.

The successful prosecution of this case highlights the collaborative efforts of multiple agencies in upholding and protecting the integrity of the country’s lawful immigration system. Alanna Ow, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the San Diego District, commended the joint effort.

CrimeDoor
Author: CrimeDoor

1 Response

  1. While it is undeniable that the individuals involved in this scam committed a serious crime and should be held accountable, it is important to consider the underlying factors that may have contributed to their actions. The Philippines is a country with high levels of poverty and limited opportunities for its citizens. It is possible that these individuals felt compelled to engage in such illegal activities due to desperation and a lack of viable options for improving their lives.

    Instead of solely focusing on punishing these individuals, it would be more productive to address the root

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