Phony bank statements, staged photos, fake honeymoons and fraudulent wedding ceremonies lie at the heart of an alleged scam to help Chinese nationals obtain U.S. citizenship, according to court records released Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles.
“Marriage fraud presents a serious threat to the integrity of our immigration system by undermining programs designed to allow foreign nationals to come to the United States in a fair and orderly fashion,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker.
Prosecutors indicted 65-year-old Jason Shiao, also known as “Jason Zheng” and his daughter Lynn Leung, 43, on charges of immigration fraud. They face five years in prison if convicted.
Posing as immigration lawyers, the father-daughter team placed ads in Chinese language newspapers. For a $50,000 fee, the Pasadena pair promised to obtain a visa and lawful status for Chinese nationals through marriages with U.S. citizens, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in the case by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Hollywood may portray marriage fraud as a romantic farce, but it’s a serious crime with serious implications,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE investigations in Los Angeles. “Schemes like this not only undermine the integrity of our nation’s legal immigration system, they pose a security vulnerability and potentially rob deserving immigrants of benefits they rightfully deserve.”
Arnold says the "couples" went to elaborate measures to fake their marriage, including trips to New Zealand and Las Vegas for honeymoon photos. Additional photos were taken at bridal shops, churches and wedding photos in nearby parks to support the ruse.
The photos, along with phony bank statements, utility bills and rental agreements, were then shown to officials during their immigration interview.
Officials say the father and daughter team arranged 70 fake weddings over the last decade for over $3.5 million.
Americans willing to participate in the fraud were promised $10,000, but often did not receive the full amount. Investigators received a tip from an anonymous source three years ago regarding the alleged visa scam.
Shiao and his daughter carry dual passports from China and Australia.
So far, 23 U.S. citizens admitted to being a part of the scheme. Court records suggest in no case did the couples live together or consummate their marriage.