Ex-NFL Player Engaged in Immigration and Food Stamp Fraud — and Bigamy

By David North on July 16, 2012

People engaged in immigration-related marriage fraud are often committing other crimes as well, up to and including murder, as has been pointed out in previous blogs; see here and here.

We now see an interesting variation on that theme in which a former San Francisco 49ers linebacker was engaging in marriage fraud not for money, nor for legal status for himself — the usual reasons — but to create a bigamous household, one with two alien wives and the trio's five children.

A U.S. citizen and a one-time football standout for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, Saleem Rasheed was sentenced to jail on July 11 for both immigration-related marriage fraud and for cheating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) system, often referred to as food stamps, out of more than $5,000. He is also awaiting trial for allegedly having sex with 16-year-old girls at a school where he used to teach.

The marriage fraud, the false claims to food stamp benefits, and the sex charges have all been picked up by the Alabama newspapers, but the long-standing bigamous arrangement has been missed by the local press, though it is a matter of public record. Here's the story:

Football. Rasheed left Alabama before graduating to join the 2002 football draft; A third-round draft pick, he played for the 49ers from 2002-2005, then for the Houston Texans in 2006. He was cut by the Texans that year. He apparently did not play in 2007, and in 2008 he was with the Calgary Stampeders when they won the Grey Cup (Canada's version of the Super Bowl). Then he left the game.

Marriages, Births, and Immigration Filings. Meanwhile, he was busy off the field, too. Sometime before April 2005 he both married and divorced Shannon Moore, presumably a citizen, about whom there is no additional information.

On April 13, 2005, he "married Hadam Benachou, a citizen of the Kingdom of Morocco in that country" according to the plea agreement filed with the federal court in the Northern District of Alabama earlier this year (a document that users of PACER, the federal courts' electronic filing system, can see at 2:12-cr-00045-KOB-JEO number 9). She entered the United States as a conditional resident in September 2006. In July 2008 Rasheed and Benachou signed an I-751 form, to remove the conditions and get her a green card; they claimed to be lawfully married to each other.

During the time that Benachou was newly married to Rasheed, but before she came to the United States, Rasheed impregnated Saida Mohamed Hussein, a citizen of Denmark.

She arrived in the States with a B-2 visa in June 2006 and had a child in November of that year. On March 4, 2007, Rasheed and Hussein were married in Jefferson County, Ala., again according to the plea agreement. Rasheed, at that point was still married to Benachou, but presumably divorced from Moore.

In the period 2007 to 2010 Benachou gave birth to three children by Rasheed, and in 2008 Hussein had one more child, again by Rasheed, for a total of five children between the two wives, all little U.S. citizens.

In the first couple years of this story, the plea agreement indicates only bigamy, but on November 20, 2007, Rasheed and Hussein (his second alien wife) filed papers with USCIS seeking green card status for her. Then, eight months later, in July 2008, he filed similar papers on behalf of a green card for his first alien wife, Benachou. In each of these filings he and the specified spouse claimed that they were married only to each other, which was not the case. So both of the filings constituted immigration-related marriage fraud, and all three were involved in the statements.

For two years, apparently, the status quo remained — Rasheed had filed papers for immigration rights for two different women and USCIS apparently had not noticed, though he always used the same name.

Then, in April 2010 Rasheed and Hussein filed another set of papers — this time to remove the conditions on Hussein's status and make her a full-fledged green-card holder — and this time the government noticed. By October 2010 those two were interviewed by immigration officials in Atlanta because of the pending spousal applications for two alien women filed by one citizen. At the interview Rasheed admitted to several illegal acts.

According to Rasheed's plea agreement, Benachou told federal officers that, at least in the period June 2007 through June 2009, she had lived in a menage a trios; what happened among the trio after June 2009 is not clear, but Benachou gave birth to her third child with Rasheed in November 2010, and Hussein's name appeared on the food stamp rolls with Rasheed in late 2009 through April 2010.

The food stamps also got Rasheed in trouble, as he was claiming to have no income at all during that period, though he had a $34,000-a-year teaching job at the time. He collected an illicit $5,551 in this manner, claiming one spouse (Hussein), that spouse's two children, and two children by Benachou. The latter's name, however, was not on the food stamp application.

Consequences. Between the interview with DHS officials in October 2010 and his sentencing earlier this month, justice moved slowly, but eventually Rasheed was sent to jail for eight months for his offenses and given another eight months of home detention.

Benachou signed a plea agreement on June 26 to the felony of making a false statement to federal officers, but has yet to be sentenced. A review of PACER does not turn up any action taken, yet, against Hussein, though her situation and that of Benachou would appear to be similar, if not identical.

Despite the false statements by the two alien women, I suspect that neither will be deported given their small U.S.-born children; the possibility of some such action, however, was touched on in the small print of Benachou's plea agreement. PACER users can see it at 2:12-cr-00155-SLB-PWG, number 11.

Another consequence of all this, of course, is that five small, minority children are growing up in poverty in Alabama, perhaps living with their father during some periods, certainly not in others.

Financial Management. Though financial mismanagement is neither a crime nor a sin, it is certainly a mistake, and much evidence of this can be seen between the lines in this case.

As one commentator pointed out on the Internet, the NFL minimum wage in the year that Rasheed was drafted was $225,000 a year, and another mentioned that in another year he had a $650,000 contract. Yet a few years later he was reduced to defrauding the food stamp system of $5,551. Perhaps those courtship trips to Morocco and Denmark were expensive.

Lessons. On an individual level the lessons are pretty obvious: 1) do not file papers with a government agency that indicate that you, on the very face of the documents, are committing fraud; and 2) if you are going to have seven non-working dependents, as seems to be the case with Rasheed, it helps to have either considerable savings or a substantial income. He had neither.

Less obvious, on the policy level, immigration fraud is more likely to be noticed if there are several procedural steps, not just one. In this case, the provision in the immigration law that establishes a two-year conditional residence period before the granting of a green card to an alien spouse, with screening processes at both the beginning and the end of that period, is clearly a good thing. It was only when the second round of papers were filed, for the second applying wife, that the problem registered with the Department of Homeland Security.

Similarly, it was only in the re-certification process of the food stamp program, set in motion about a year after his initial application for these benefits, that the local agency noticed that he was simultaneously getting food stamps and a salary from the school board.

Finally, if there is immigration-related marriage fraud there may be, as there was in this case, other lawless activity as well.

Marriage fraud is never a bland, blameless "marriage of convenience".