BY Shulamit Shvartsman for Lawyers.comsm
In addition to love, getting married offers people several incentives including tax benefits, health insurance, immigration status for non-citizens, and more.
In the military, marriage comes with additional benefits: Married soldiers receive extra money and can live off-base in a larger living space.
Knowing this, two brothers set up a fraudulent business scheme where they recruited US soldiers to marry Russian women.
Alexander and Pavel Manin are two brothers from Kazakhstan who joined the US army. Their scheme involved recruiting Russian women seeking US legal immigration status. In exchange for $1,000 to $5,000, the brothers would find the woman a US soldier to marry and help fill out the necessary immigration papers.
The soldiers were junior enlisted soldiers who couldn't live off the army post unless they were married or had a family. This scheme gave them the ability to live off post in a house. They also received more than $600 of monthly benefits.
This resulted in a “marriage made in heaven” between “Russian immigrants who needed citizenship papers and bachelor soldiers who wanted a housing allowance.”
How was this Fraud Discovered?
In June 2008, the Army Criminal Investigations Division alerted Federal agents of the possible fraud. Army investigators then contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as the FBI, who then caught the violators.
These sham marriages cost the government at least $200,000 in wages and benefits and have brought charges against all those involved in the sham.
Three soldiers, all paratroopers, are each facing separate punishments. Sergeant Jason Hawk paid a fine of $20,000, imprisoned for 4 months, demoted from sergeant to private and discharged from the Army.
Wesley Farris and Stephen Schneider pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to break the law. Pleading guilty means that the person accused admits certain crimes and the prosecution drops some charges against him or gives a lighter sentence than if he actually went to trial.
Both will be sentenced in the near future. While the details of Farris' and Schneider's plea agreements aren’t yet available, court records indicate that they will probably testify in the trial against the Manin brothers.
The Manin brothers, the masterminds of the operation, are both in custody in North Carolina, where they are awaiting trial on charges of marriage and visa fraud, conspiracy and stealing public money. Typically, defendants don’t remain in jail if they can pay the bail money. Usually, they can await their trial in their own homes.
However, in certain situations, such as if particularly violent crimes have been committed or the defendant has the means or opportunity to run away, the judge can deny bail. Pavel had an airline ticket to Kazakhstan when arrested and thus both brothers are considered flight risks and are being kept in custody.
The women also plead guilty. Tatyana Urazova, Schneider's wife, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud as part of her plea agreement. Farris’ wife, Svetlana Kaloshina, also pleaded guilty in August and is awaiting sentencing. The fate of Ayna Ivanova, Hawk’s wife, is unclear.
Question For Your Attorney
- What are the consequences for participating in a fraudulent marriage scheme for an average American citizen?
- My foreign born spouse and I are in the process of getting a divorce. Will are marriage be called into question, even though our marriage wasn't fraudulent?
- What if I originally married my spouse for benefits, but we fell in love with each other afterwards. is are marriage considered fraudulent?