We know about all different types of fraud: insurance fraud, credit card fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, mortgage fraud – the list goes on and on.
What you might not know much about, however, is marriage fraud. It’s just not something we hear much about in North Carolina. Until recently, that is.
On June 21, the FBI arrested 7 of 12 people involved in a marriage fraud ring out of Swain and Jackson counties. The couples are being accused of fake marriages in order to evade immigration laws here in the United States.
Non-residents are alleged to have paid between $1,500 and $3,000 to marry legal U.S. residents so they could get permanent residence status. At least one of the couples was introduced to each other at Harrah’s Casino in Cherokee, where most of those charged are from.
The couples traveled to Sevier County in Tennessee to get married. After getting their marriage certificates, most of the non-citizens applied for immigration adjustments based on their marriage to citizens.
North Carolina Western District U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose says that these marriages are fraud because “there’s no love or affection…it’s solely a business transaction.”
While you might not think about marriage fraud on a regular basis, think about this: between 1998 and 2007, over 2.3 million people received green cards because they married a U.S. citizen. Most of those are probably legitimate marriages, but some probably aren’t.
How does the government determine this, though? How can you “prove” that there’s no love or affection?
Let’s explore the laws and penalties associated with marriage fraud in order to better understand this lesser-known crime and how you might fight back if you find yourself charged.
What Is Marriage Fraud?
Fraud is considered a white collar crime, and is defined as “wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.” So a wrongful or criminal marriage intended to result in financial or personal gain is marriage fraud.
The North Carolina couples allegedly got married hoping to gain U.S. citizenship.
U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) takes marriage fraud especially seriously because they claim it poses a threat to “U.S. national security, financial institutions and the integrity of the immigration system.”
There are three types of marriage fraud someone could be arrested for:
- When a U.S. citizen is paid, or asked to perform a favor, to marry a foreign citizen who already lives in the United States;
- A “mail-order” marriage where either the U.S. citizen or foreign citizen knows it is a fraud; and,
- A foreign citizen defrauds a U.S. citizen who believes the marriage is legitimate.
Just remember, for fraud to occur, not only does there have to be intent, but also some sort of gain. If there is no intent or gain, then no crime was committed.
Penalties for Marriage Fraud
If you’re attempting to evade U.S. immigration laws by getting married to a U.S. citizen, you can be arrested for marriage fraud, and it is a felony offense. You can also be arrested for marriage fraud if you’re the legal citizen who marries a foreign national for immigration purposes.
Marriage fraud is punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.
It doesn’t stop there, either. You could also be charged with:
- Visa fraud;
- Harboring an alien;
- Conspiracy; or
- Making false statements.
Each of those charges carries additional prison sentences and fines.
As you can see, the government doesn’t mess around when it comes to using marriage to gain citizenship. For that reason, if you’re facing marriage fraud charges, contact an experienced North Carolina attorney who can help defend your charges and fight for your rights.
About the Author:
Jan Elliott Pritchett is Managing Partner at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett and one of North Carolina’s top rated criminal defense attorneys. With a practice dedicated 100% to litigation, Mr. Pritchett protects the legal rights of clients who have been charged in federal and state criminal matters, as well as DUI/DWi, motor vehicle accidents, personal injury, and traffic violations. In practice since 1995, Mr. Pritchett has earned a reputation as a highly talented and fearless lawyer, being listed among the state’s “Legal Elite” and recognized as one of the Top 100 DWI Lawyers in North Carolina by the National Advocacy of DUI Defense. He currently serves as the Co-Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Legal Specialization, Criminal Law Specialty, and Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.