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| Crime |

Green Card 2: This Time, You're Doing Time

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It's cute when it happens in the movies and stars, oh, Andie McDowell and Gérard Depardieu or Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. But when you screw around with immigration documents and arrange for foreign nationals to marry U.S. citizens for permanent residence or citizenship, well, that's a federal offense that comes with time in prison -- even if you're a 72-year-old grandmother from Fort Worth.

U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis today sentenced Maria Refugia Camarillo to 44 months in federal prison, after which she'll have to serve two years of supervised release. And all because for the last two decades she's been involved in a phony marriage scam around the DFW involving her own family members -- some of whom were underage when they were fake married -- with whom she'd divvy the dough.

After the jump, as always, is the whole story from the U.S. Attorney's Office. But, as always, an excerpt:

Camarillo recruited many of her family members, including her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews into the conspiracy. Camarillo paid the co-conspirators a portion of the money that she received either directly, or by paying bills or other obligations on their behalf. Camarillo admitted that three of her grandchildren were minors when they entered into the conspiracy and that they were under age 18 when they entered into their first marriages related to the conspiracy.

Foreign nationals would pay as much as $12,000 for these arranged marriages. There was an organized deception by the defendants to make the fraudulent marriages appear legitimate. Camarillo even coached the couples on how to make the marriage appear legitimate, including advising them to take photographs together and open joint bank accounts. She even provided the couple a list of possible questions they might be asked at the immigration interview and advised them to practice answering the questions.

SEVENTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD FORT WORTH WOMAN SENTENCED TO NEARLY 4 YEARS FOR ROLE AS LEADER OF VISA FRAUD SCHEME

Defendant Arranged Marriages Between Foreign Nationals and U.S. Citizens for a Fee

DALLAS - Maria Refugia Camarillo, 72, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis to 44 months in federal prison following her guilty plea of conspiring to commit fraud in connection with immigration documents, announced U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas. Judge Solis also ordered Camarillo to serve two years of supervised release. Three of the 16 defendants remain to be sentenced. Another six defendants were charged separately for their involvement in the scheme and have pled guilty.

According to documents filed in court, beginning in the 1980's and continuing until May 2008, Camarillo, and a number of individuals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, ran a fraudulent scheme in which foreign nationals, who wanted to apply for lawful residency into the U.S., would pay Camarillo to arrange a marriage between them and a U.S. citizen. Once married, they could apply for U.S. permanent residence and later, U.S. citizenship.

"For decades, this woman ignored immigration laws and even recruited numerous family members to join this conspiracy," said John Chakwin Jr., special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations. "Our ICE-led Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force -- comprised of local, state and federal agencies -- identified, investigated and prosecuted this woman who thought she was above the law."

Camarillo recruited many of her family members, including her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews into the conspiracy. Camarillo paid the co-conspirators a portion of the money that she received either directly, or by paying bills or other obligations on their behalf. Camarillo admitted that three of her grandchildren were minors when they entered into the conspiracy and that they were under age 18 when they entered into their first marriages related to the conspiracy.

Foreign nationals would pay as much as $12,000 for these arranged marriages. There was an organized deception by the defendants to make the fraudulent marriages appear legitimate. Camarillo even coached the couples on how to make the marriage appear legitimate, including advising them to take photographs together and open joint bank accounts. She even provided the couple a list of possible questions they might be asked at the immigration interview and advised them to practice answering the questions.

Couples filed their applications for permanent residence with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) using fraudulently obtained, legitimate documents which showed their marriages were valid. To further evade detection, Camarillo provided some defendants who were citizen spouses, fraudulent identities, including false names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers. Camarillo admitted that approximately 13 fraudulent identities were used during the course of the conspiracy by various members of the conspiracy.

Camarillo admitted that after the foreign national had made initial contact with a member of the conspiracy, she would usually meet with the foreign national in her office behind her house in Fort Worth. During the meeting, or soon after, the foreign national would pay half of the arranged fee to Camarillo. Then, Camarillo would select one of the coconspirators, who was a citizen of the appropriate age and gender, to marry and petition for the alien. The selected spouse usually met the foreign national for the first time when they applied for a marriage license and again for the actual wedding ceremony, which was normally officiated by a Justice of the Peace.

The case was investigated by CIS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General, Health and Human Services Commission's Office of Inspector General and the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Charles Brown and Amy Mitchell.

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