Editors: Let's Take Immigration/Marriage Fraud Seriously

By David North on December 27, 2011

One of the continuing challenges to those of us who want some limits on immigration is the slippery language used by the other side.

You know all about "undocumented workers" for illegal aliens, and, more recently, in connection with the DREAM Act, "children of illegal immigrants" for illegal aliens arriving as young people.

Not quite as prominent as those just mentioned is the use of the term "marriage of convenience" for marriage fraud. This is the activity in which both participants know what they are doing, being aware that they are jointly lying to the government so that one of them can get an immigrant visa.

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"Marriage of convenience" suggests that no real harm was done and that if it is, in fact, a crime, it is a victimless one. The granting of a bogus immigration benefit, sadly, is not generally viewed as a terribly serious matter, certainly not on the left.

Marriage fraud, however, is frequently accompanied by other, sometimes more dramatic crimes, such as two murders in the D.C. area in the last year, as I reported in an earlier blog.

We now have another example of immigration/marriage fraud, this one being portrayed in the press as an almost cheerful event. Even though, in this case, it is stirred in with a mix of other crimes.

Let us introduce Okey Festus Nwagbara, 45. Born in Nigeria, the twice-married Nwagbara is currently a U.S. citizen, but is about to be denaturalized by a court order.

Sadly, however, the lead in the news story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the marriage fraud case had a light, dismissive air about the crimes involved:

A Plano [Texas] man has a lot of explaining to do to his wife or the government after being accused of entering a sham marriage to obtain citizenship, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

To add to the frivolous treatment of this crime, the Star-Telegram illustrated it with a picture of a glitzy, decorated wedding cake, complete with figurines of a married couple.

Returning to the actual crimes, Nwagbara managed, in a space of a little over two months, to be the target of three federal indictments.

Among his crimes, according to a true bill from a Texas grand jury, was charging unneeded and often undelivered feeding tubes to Medicare beneficiaries. To quote the indictment:

...Nwagbara would submit claims to Medicare for the enteral [feeding tube]
products. Advanced records would be manipulated, sometimes stating that beneficiaries were malnourished. Interviews would reveal, and medical records indicated, that numerous beneficiaries were obese. One beneficiary in particular weighed 400 pounds and did not have a feeding tube ...

He and a partner in crime, who worked for a medical practice and who forged MD signatures on prescriptions for medical equipment to be supplied by Nwagbara, were charged with defrauding the Medicare system of $500,000. That was all in the first indictment, dated October 12, 2011.

Nwagbara's second indictment charged him with falsely obtaining naturalization by a series of lies, including his earlier fraudulent marriage to a citizen.

His third indictment, also largely dealing with immigration matters, charged him with perjury. At one point he told the government that he had no children, when, in fact, he had two of them. At another point he said that he was a U.S. citizen, when he was not.

Nwagbara is currently in jail awaiting trial, the judge having ruled that he was a flight risk and required detention. Arguing against the ruling, Nwagbara's lawyer made an interesting claim, that his client would need a visa from Nigeria to re-enter that country, and thus he was likely to stay in the U.S. The assistant U.S. Attorney said that he had a valid Nigerian passport, and that there was no indication that he had renounced his Nigerian citizenship.

As is often the case in these immigration prosecutions, they come only after the alien in question has beaten the system, in many ways, for years, as this chronology shows:

  • On July 3, 2001, he entered the U.S. as a visitor for pleasure, apparently with his Nigerian wife, Gloria Obaji. He soon, presumably, fell into illegal status, though the court records do not show that.

  • On September 21, 2001, the couple (at least nominally) were divorced.

  • On March 19, 2002, they had a child, in the U.S.

  • Two days later Nwagbara married Stephanie McDowell, a U.S. citizen. Apparently they never lived together, though he said they did, and that marriage was said not to have been consummated.

  • On April 25, 2002, Ms. McDowell filed a petition with DHS to get him green card status.

  • On November 20, 2003, the actual couple had another child.

  • In September 2004, Nwagbara obtained his green card, because of his "marriage" to Ms. McDowell.

  • On January 30, 2008, Nwagbara was naturalized. Shortly thereafter he and his co-conspirator, Jerry C. Ballard, started the Medicare fraud scheme.

The strong implication in the court documents is that Nwagbara and his Nigerian wife have been living together, with their kids, in Texas throughout this period.

So the alien outwitted the immigration authorities on numerous occasions over a decade, and similarly outmaneuvered the Medicare people for a long time. He thus did in both DHS and DHHS.

Marriage fraud is serious business, and it is often linked with other serious crimes.

A photo of a jail cell would be a better illustration for this story than a picture of a wedding cake.

(PACER, the federal courts' electronic records system, has extensive files on these cases; see, for example, his Medicare fraud indictment at 3:2011-cr-00298. The cases are all in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division.)