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Home Sections MiscellaNEWS Five Others in Marriage Fraud Plead Not Guilty
Five Others in Marriage Fraud Plead Not Guilty PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Joseph G. Lariosa   
Wednesday, 09 December 2009 07:16


By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA

(© 2009 Journal Group Link International)

 

  

C HICAGO, Illinois (JGLi) – The other half of ten defendants accused of taking part in a marriage conspiracy to evade immigration laws and enable foreign nationals, mostly Filipinos, to become U.S. citizens pleaded not guilty Tuesday (Dec. 9) during their arraignment.

 

Those arraigned before United States District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan of the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, who all pleaded not guilty, were Maria F. Cruz, 49, formerly of Chicago and currently living in American Canyon, Calif., and formerly a Cook County Traffic employee; Maria Cyd Adriatico-Fernandez, 53, of Oakbrook, Illinois; Sonia Maki, 43; DeShawn Barksdale, 39; and Latrice Wilson, 37, all of Chicago.

 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Yonan told this reporter all the ten defendants, except Ms. Cruz, were released on a $4,500 personal recognizance bond, meaning “they don’t have to post any cash bond.” Ms. Cruz had earlier posted a $250,000 secured bond for her temporary freedom.

 

Judge Der-Yeghiayan ordered all the ten defendants back in his courtroom on April 13, 2010 at 9:30 a.m. for a status hearing of the case.

 

The five other co-defendants pleaded not guilty after they were arrested last Nov. 23. They were Manny Aguja, 53, an immigration attorney with an office at 3144 West Montrose Ave., Chicago; and two employees — his twin brother, Marc Aguja, also 53, Celeste Ligutan-Lopez, 36, all of Chicago; Keisha McGary, 33, and Eugene Wilson, 30, both of Chicago and both Cook county employees.

 

Attorney Aguja denied the indictment, telling this reporter that anybody “can be indicted. I did not do anything wrong. I don't even know my other co-accused.  Getting arrested comes with the territory. I will fight the case to death. I am still here in my office doing business as usual.”

 

A 14-count indictment was returned by a federal grand jury last Nov. 23 after the arrest of the five defendants by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Five of the defendants were current or former Cook County Traffic Court employees, although the charges do not allege that their employment played any role in the alleged fraud scheme.

 

The indictment alleges that Ms. Cruz and others recruited U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, primarily Filipinos, who entered into at least 15 sham marriages to evade immigration laws, and that the foreign nationals paid Cruz approximately $3,000 to arrange for them to marry U.S. citizens.

 

Cruz allegedly promised U.S. citizens that in return for marrying a foreign national, the foreign national would pay the U.S. citizen approximately $3,000 after the marriage and approximately $300 to $350 every month until the foreign national obtained U.S. citizenship.

 

Foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens legitimately may become legal permanent residents of the United States but not if the marriage was a sham solely to evade immigration laws.

 

Cruz, a native of Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte, was arrested on an initial complaint in this case in late August and was released on a $200,000 secured bond. She was a Cook County Traffic Court employee until this past summer when she moved to California.

 

In addition to the 15 allegedly fraudulent marriages detailed in the indictment, Cruz allegedly attempted to arrange two additional marriages between individuals and ICE agents during an undercover portion of the investigation.

 

Cruz allegedly referred participants in fraudulent marriages to Manny Aguja’s law office for preparation of paperwork in support of the sham unions. In addition to preparing allegedly fraudulent immigration papers, the Aguja brothers and Ligutan-Lopez met with sham marriage participants and told them what actions they needed to take to make their marriages appear legitimate, according to the 34-page indictment, which also seeks forfeiture of the premises housing Manny Aguja’s law office.

 

Each defendant was charged with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Some defendants were charged with additional counts of marriage or immigration fraud, including Cruz who faces 10 counts of marriage fraud. The Aguja brothers were also charged with conspiracy to induce foreign nationals to reside illegally in the United States.

 

According to the indictment, between July 2003 and October 2009 Cruz allegedly paid a fee to others for referring to her U.S. citizens who were willing to enter into fraudulent marriages. Cruz then would drive individuals to weddings and take photos before and after, knowing that they would be used to make it appear that the sham marriages were legitimate, and she also would advise them of steps they needed to take to make their marriages appear legitimate.

 

Conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and marriage fraud carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Other immigration fraud counts in the indictment carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted, however, the Court would impose a sentence it deems reasonable under the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines. (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

 

© opyright 2009 The Journal Group Link International. The contents provided in the JGLi may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of the Journal Group Link International.

 

(Editor’s Note: Watch out for the upcoming outlet-oriented, subscription-based website of Journal Group Link International that guarantees originally sourced stories, features, photos, audios and videos and multi-media contents.)

 

 



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Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 December 2009 07:18
 

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