A California woman pleaded guilty on Tuesday for her part in a fraudulent family business that set up over 100 sham marriages.
Nisha Bhargava, her husband Ajit Kumar Bhargava and their daughter Runjhun Bhargava were arrested in connection with the fraudulent marriage scheme in April 2011. The U.S. Attorney’s office detailed at the time of the arrests that aliens seeking citizenship paid as much as $60,000 for the service of a bogus marriage. The fraudulent business was entitled MPEagle Consultants and was operated out of Cerritos, California.
The issue brings further attention to sham marriage operations in the wake of the December 2, 2015 Islamic terror attacks in San Bernardino, California. Attacker Tashfeen Malik came to the United States on a K-1 fiancee visa in the months before she and husband Syed Rizwan Farook killed 14 and injured 22 at the Inland Regional Center. Muslim convert Enrique Marquez is also facing charges for terror activities associated with Farook and a fraudulent marriage to a member of Farook’s family.
As part of a plea deal, Bhargava pleaded guilty to “possessing an identification document to defraud the United States government,” according to ABC 7 News. The document was a state of California birth certificate that, according to court documents, was “for the purpose of obtaining a fraudulently issued immigrant visa for V.P.” The offense is a misdemeanor.
Mr. Bhargava has pleaded guilty to a “series of felony accounts,” according to a lawyer with the U.S. Attorney’s office involved in the case. That lawyer said that the husband was the primary driver behind the operation. He faces potentially decades of prison time, while his wife faces no more than a year in prison.
As many as 100 Indian nationals paid “extravagant” fees to obtain citizenship documentation through the couple’s fraudulent operation, according to the report. The USAO lawyer explained that such operations prey on low income or down-and-out Americans willing to lend their citizenship status to a fraudulent marriage in exchange for money. Court documents detailed payments of $2,000 to U.S. citizens for the service of marrying foreign nationals.
“Couples” would pose for photos and open joint bank accounts to make the unions seem legitimate. Fraudulent immigration petitions would be filed for MPEagle alien clients. Ajit Bhargava would typically charge aliens $15,000 for a fraudulent work visa and up to $60,000 for a fraudulent marriage to a U.S. citizen. MPEagle’s website listed offices in Georgia, New Jersey, and India according to court documents.
“Visa fraud is a serious crime. Not only does it undermine the integrity of our legal immigration process and penalize those who abide by the law, it also poses a significant security vulnerability,” Claude Arnold, Special Agent in Charge for ICE HSI in Los Angeles said back in 2011, years before the San Bernardino attacks.
The investigation into the family marriage fraud scheme began in September 2009 according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California.
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