Three Different Flavors of Florida Immigration/Marriage Fraud

By David North on September 25, 2015

Three different variations on immigration/marriage fraud have emerged in the U.S. courts in Florida recently.

There was the all-in-the-family-style for a quartet of people from the Philippines.

There was the marry-a-Cuban-to-get-your-green-card-in-a-hurry scheme involving 14 people.

And there was the cosmopolitan conspiracy in which fraudulent marriages were arranged for citizens of six different countries (Argentina, Colombia, Israel, Moldova, Ukraine, and Venezuela). This one included either 27 or 28 people, the accounts vary. Usually in immigration/marriage fraud cases the participants all have the same nation of birth, but not in this one.

All involved financial payments and all 45 or 46 persons were indicted, but the cases are in different stages of development. In all cases the fraud was designed to provide the aliens (one in each marriage) with legal status to which they were not entitled.

The Four Filipinos. Everyone in this case was born in the Philippines and carries the last name Barlaan. Two of the people are in their 60s, Winnie and Peter, and the two others, Mary and Mark, are in their 30s. Peter is father to Mark. Mark and Mary had, and may continue to have, an ongoing romantic attachment. Peter and Winnie work or worked at the same beach club resort. (One really needs a set of file cards or a chart to follow this one.)

Peter and Winnie both came to the United States many years ago and, as a condensed version of the story begins, both have become citizens. Both appear to be single. Mark arrived from the islands with an H-1B visa, then so did Mary with a tourist visa, which soon ran out. Peter then paid Winnie to marry his son, Mark. Peter then married Mary. Then the older people filed for legal status for the younger ones, as their spouses, and the government granted the younger ones green cards. Mark and Mary both later became citizens. Eventually someone noticed that something was fishy and charges were filed against all concerned.

The marriage of a man in his 30s to a woman in her 60s, particularly if it provides legal status to the man, was presumably the red flag in the case, but this is not specified. If systems were working this would have been noted before green-card status and naturalization were granted, but systems were initially oblivious.

At this point, all four have entered plea agreements and they have not yet been sentenced, but the plea agreements call for, as a minimum, the denaturalization and (mandatory) voluntary departure of the two younger ones; sentencing will come later for all four.

Why does Winnie also bear the name Barlaan? Is she a sister, cousin, or perhaps a former wife of Peter? Similarly, did Mary become a Barlaan as a result of her marrying Peter or was she born with that name? The indictment answers neither of these questions. Peter could have filed a green card petition for Mark, but for unmarried sons and daughters of naturalized U.S. citizens from that nation the waiting time is 15 years. For users of PACER, the courts' electronic data system, the case number is 3:15-cr-00094-HLA-MCR.

The Cubans. The Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) is best known for the "wet foot, dry foot" policy that grants immediate legal status to Cubans, who otherwise would be illegal aliens, if they can reach our soil before being caught by officials. In addition, under CAA, an illegal alien married to a Cuban entrant receives instant permanent resident alien (PRA) status on application, just as the alien would receive had he or she married a citizen. An illegal alien or a nonimmigrant marrying a PRA from anywhere else in the world faces a substantial waiting period before becoming a legal resident. So marrying a Cuban is an attractive option for non-Cuban aliens in need of legal status.

Odalys Marrero (a woman) and Rolando Mulet used this provision of the CAA to build a little business arranging phony marriages for illegal aliens (mostly with Hispanic names) to Cubans to get quick green cards, according to the indictment in the Southern District of Florida. (The PACER file number is 1:15-cr-20579-JAL.)

The two ringleaders not only matched Cubans to non-Cubans, they in many cases fraudulently notarized documents, helped prepare immigration applications, and coached the couples in connection with their forthcoming USCIS interviews.

While there are several references to payments in the indictment, the only dollar figure I saw was a single reference to $1,000. In addition to Mulet and Marrero, six Cubans and six non-Cubans were indicted.

The case is still before the court and no plea agreements have been announced, although in these cases a plea bargain usually concludes the case.

The Multinational Fraud Ring. The two leaders of the ring, Inaldo Chavez and Caridad Baez, played the matchmaking and document-assistance roles typical in these cases and were aided by a recruiter, Masiel Puron. The first two were also charged with lying in their own naturalization cases. The largest bribe for a spouse in this case was $6,000, according to the indictment (in the PACER files as 1:2015-cr-20199).

The ringleaders have been sentenced to 21 months in prison and their citizenships were revoked by the judge. They were both told to cooperate should ICE decide to deport them, but that decision apparently will be made, or not made, by ICE in the future. Puron, the sidekick, got 10 months in jail.

The headline on the USCIS press release might be regarded as misleading: "USCIS Efforts in Florida Lead to Sentencing of 28 Marriage and Immigration Fraud Participants".

While it is a good thing that the citizens and the PRAs (the visa-creating brides and grooms) were indicted, which does not always happen, their sentencing consisted of probation or time served (for those who had actually been jailed in the early stages of the case). The aliens are to be turned over to ICE, which might or might not deport them.

All too often in these cases the citizens are not even named or indicted and are regarded — to revive that old Watergate term — as unindicted conspirators.

It would be a healthy development and news, too, if some citizens or PRAs who participated in these fraudulent marriages were sent to jail. One hopes that some federal judge will come to that conclusion.