Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Feds say North Texas family ran fraudulent marriage ring (Star-Telegram)

Star-Telegram staff writer

Posted on Wed, May. 14, 2008

A 70-year-old Fort Worth woman has been identified by federal authorities as the ringleader of a three-generation family fraud ring that arranged fake marriages to U.S. citizens so foreigners could get legal permanent residence status and later U.S. citizenship.

Maria Refugia Camarillo, known as "Cuca," according to a federal indictment, "acted as the main contact for [immigrants] interested in entering into a fraudulent marriage with a member of the conspiracy." One defendant, Diana DeLeon, 34, was married at least 24 times, according to the 29-count indictment.

Camarillo, DeLeon and nine co-conspirators were arrested Tuesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with the 10th arrested in Corpus Christi. Four others also indicted are still at large in a criminal organization that dates to the 1970s, ICE officials reported.

Camarillo could not be reached for comment.

The 12 people arrested made their initial court appearance Tuesday in Dallas before U.S. Magistrate Judge William Sanderson, who released them on bail, according to Kathy Colvin, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Dallas.

According to the indictment, immigrants paid $10,000 to $12,000 each to the ring to marry U.S. citizens.

After being married they could apply for legal permanent residency, which would allow them to remain in the United States indefinitely.

The indictment says the ring also falsified Social Security numbers and other documents that were presented to immigration officials as valid.

Camarillo had a business card with contact information for her son and told clients that marriages could be arranged within days of payment, according to the indictment.

People who referred clients to the ring received $200.

Under U.S. law, citizens petitioning for legal residency for their wife or husband must show proof that the marriage is real, such as documentation of joint bank accounts or jointly owned property. Sometimes even "photographs of the couple at the wedding" are accepted as proof, according to the indictment.

Although the couples in the marriage ring represented that they were living together, "they did not reside together as husband and wife and had no intention of residing together," the indictment says.

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