LONDON – LONDON (AP) — A British judge sentenced a Church of England minister to four years in jail on Monday for his part in a sham-marriage scam which saw hundreds of African men marry European women so they could stay in Britain.
The Rev. Alex Brown was convicted in July of conspiring to facilitate the commission of breaches of immigration laws. Two others were also convicted in the scam, where men who had exhausted their immigration options married eastern European women — who were to be paid as much as 3,000 pounds ($4,600).
"The participants were perfectly willing, but this conspiracy involved the exploitation of two vulnerable groups," Judge Richard Hayward said. "The eastern Europeans had come to the U.K. for a better life but found themselves in poor accommodation and in hard and low-paid jobs.
"They were vulnerable to being exploited and they agreed to marry for money."
The marriage register of Brown's church St. Leonards-on-Sea, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of London, was shown to jurors during the trial. Of 383 weddings between 2005 and 2009, 360 involved couples where the brides were from Europe and the grooms were African.
The two other men who were convicted — lawyer Michael Adelasoye and Vladymyr Buchak, a Ukrainian in Britain illegally— were also sentenced to four years for the conspiracy.
Brown and Adelasoye testified that they did not know the marriages were false. Buchak did not give evidence at the trial.
Brown said he sometimes forgot to check the passports of couples to ensure they were entitled to be in Britain. His motive for participating in the scam is unclear, and he has said he was not in it for financial gain.
(This version CORRECTS convicted in July, not last month.)