What Happens When a Marriage-Related Immigration Fraud Ring Is Busted?

By David North on November 7, 2022

A major marriage-related immigration fraud ring has been broken in the Houston area and the ringleader has been sentenced to 10 years in jail, but what happened to all the other players?

Although you cannot tell it from the ICE press release, an examination of a sampling of the 77 Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) records of those involved in this very large case shows a nuanced range of punishments and probation conditions seemingly individualized to meet the specific situations.

The five major co-conspirators got prison sentences ranging from six years down to time served while waiting trial (which seemed to be one or more years) and in a couple of cases were told to report to ICE should they be put into deportation proceedings.

The 72 others, either citizens or aliens who engaged in the phony marriages, all of whom faced a serious federal trial, got shorter prison terms, and/or periods of house arrest, and/or periods of probation, and/or dismissal of charges. In some instances, they were told to be prepared for deportation or to participate in mental health and/or drug treatment programs.

Joe Manuel Cazares, III, for example, apparently a citizen or a green card holder, was told that during his probation he: “Must not use or possess alcohol. ... You shall refrain from knowingly associating with gang members. ... You shall have no contact with Ava Davis, Kara Lai Betancourt, Miguel Hernandez, Kenneth Miller, and Alexander Ballesteros (the victims of your crimes ... ).”

In my eyes, all the aliens in these cases should be deported, and all the citizens jailed.

A recent ICE press release announced the sentencing of Ashley Yen Nguyen, 58, to 10 years in prison for admitting to being the ringleader in the case, which, it said, produced “more than $15 million in illicit proceeds”. In some cases, as much as $50,000 to $70,000 was paid for a single fraudulent marriage. There were, at differing prices, “well over 500 sham marriages” during the scheme. (According to the press release data, the average cost of a fraudulent marriage was $30,000.)

The long-running conspiracy, one suspects from looking into the court documents where it is never explicated, was an interesting one.  Apparently Nguyen sold fake marriages to Vietnamese, while recruiting Hispanics – either citizens or green card holders – to be the nominal spouses.

Adan Alexander Martinez. Of the 77 “ex parte” names (of people involved in the marriages) in the repeated PACER (i.e., court) files, 41 are Asian (mostly Vietnamese), 30 are Hispanic, and six are in neither camp. The totals, 41 and 36 are nearly even, and I assume that the Asians are the aliens, and that the others are citizens or green card holders. Another source was a sampling of the PACER files for specific cases.  

Comment. While the individualized penalties for those who engaged in the one-on-one marriage fraud were commendable, there was something missing, notably in the indictment and the ICE press release  – this was an overall description of the scheme, and tell-tale elements of it; such a description would help ICE officers (and maybe marriage-license clerks) detect these schemes in the future before they become so massive as this one.

What Nguyen and her colleagues apparently did was to link advantaged aliens, largely Vietnamese, who had money and were willing to spend it on securing legal status, with disadvantaged Hispanics, often with gang or drug problems, who were willing, for money, to go through fake marriages. Now, there must be occasional genuine marriages between these two ethnic groups  – there are lots of Vietnamese and lots of Mexican-Americans in Houston – but having large numbers of such marriages should have raised eyebrows in the city clerk’s office, and in that part of USCIS that handles citizen-alien marriages.

But was anyone in those offices looking for suspicious patterns? We do not know.

We have previously noted a non-government study of marriage-related immigration fraud that paid close attention to signs of potential abuse; in this case, in another state, most of the bad marriages were between Black Americans and aliens from a specific part of the world; the marriages were often performed before one or two favored justices of the peace, and the photos on file with USCIS of wedding parties generally showed the citizens to be much more casually dressed than the aliens. (I am not offering a general link to this study because it might alert the marriage fraud arrangers, but if a law enforcement officer wants information on it, reach out to me at [email protected].)

It would have been helpful if those dealing with the Texas cases had described what was going on in such a way as to help other officials detect similar rings.