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Sep 30th
Home Sections MiscellaNEWS Six of 10 in Immigration-Marriage Scam Plead Guilty
Six of 10 in Immigration-Marriage Scam Plead Guilty PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 01 March 2011 10:17


Journal Group Link International)


C HICAGO (jGLi) – Six of ten defendants in an alleged marriage-fraud conspiracy to evade immigration laws and enable foreign nationals, mostly Filipinos, to illegally become U.S. citizens had pleaded guilty, according to court documents obtained by this reporter.


The four others, including a Filipino-American lawyer specializing in immigration cases, have not signed plea agreements and are going to stand trial starting April 25, 2011, according to Assistant United States Attorney Jason A. Yonan in a phone interview with this reporter.


Reached for comment, Filipino-American lawyer Manny Aguja, 53, told this reporter he is not going to plead guilty, saying “I am ready to face trial” before United States District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghian of the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.


The six defendants who pleaded guilty in their individual plea agreements they signed were Latrice Wilson, 37, of Chicago; Maria F. Cruz, 49, formerly of Chicago and currently living in American Canyon, California, and formerly a Cook County Traffic employee; Sonia Maki, 43, of Chicago; DeShawn Barksdale, 39, Maria Cyd Adriatico-Fernandez, 53, of Oakbrook, Illinois; and Keisha McGary, 33, of Chicago and Cook County employee.


The four others, who have not yet signed pleas and are going to stand trial on April 25, aside from Attorney Aguja, are Aguja’s twin brother, Marc Aguja, 53; Celeste Ligutan-Lopez, 36; and Latrice Wilson’s brother, Eugene Wilson, 37, all of Chicago.




F or those who pleaded guilty, sentencing is slated on March 15, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. for Latrice Wilson; on April 6 at 11 a.m. for Maria Cruz; April 19 at 10:30 a.m. for Sonia Maki: April 20 at 10 a.m. for DeShawn Barksdale; April 21 at 10 a.m. for Maria Cyd-Adriatico; and on April 21 at 11 a.m. for Keisha McGary.


All of the six defendants, including Cruz, had entered voluntary plea of guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Sec. 371 (count one).


At the sentencing, all defendants face maximum of five years imprisonment, a maximum fine of $250,000, not more than three years of supervised release and $100 assessment fee. But the judge has option to reduce the sentence if defendant “has clearly demonstrated a recognition and affirmative acceptance of personal responsibility” for their criminal records, including furnishing the U.S. Attorney’s and Probation offices “with financial information relevant to their ability to satisfy any fine that maybe imposed, a two-level reduction in the offense level.”


If the defendants’ criminal “history points” are zero and criminal history category” are I, the “anticipated offense level 9, which when combined with anticipated criminal history category I means four to ten months’ imprisonment, in addition to any supervised release and fine.”


But in the case of Maria Cruz, she faces an additional charge of “committing, aiding or abetting marriage fraud” after pleading guilty to Count One (conspiracy to commit marriage fraud) of the indictment.


It was Ms. Cruz, who beginning in July 2003 and up to Oct. 2009 in Chicago, who knowingly arranged marriages of U.S. citizens for the purpose of evading immigration laws in order to obtain legal permanent-resident status with foreign nationals, mostly Filipinos, upon payment by the foreign nationals for $10,000.




Ms. Cruz faces an “advisory guideline range of 27 to 33 months’ imprisonment based on an adjusted offense level 18.”


In her plea deal, Latrice Wilson said, “with co-defendants Maria Cruz, Manny Aguja, Marc Aguja, Celeste Ligutan-Lopez, Maria Cyd Adriatico-Fernandez, Sonia Maki, DeShawn Barksdale, Keisha McGary and Eugene Wilson,” she did "knowingly conspire to commit certain offenses against the U.S.


Wilson said it was Maria Cruz who solicited her as part into sham marriage while the two of them worked together at the Traffic Division of the Cook County Circuit at the Daley Center in Chicago for $10,000.


After thinking over the offer for sometime, Cruz introduced her to the foreign national identified only as “EI.” Cruz told EI that he would pay Wilson $3,000 to $4,000 at the time of the wedding and $500 monthly thereafter.


On June 24, 2004, Wilson and EI obtained a marriage license at the Daley Center. On June 26, 2004, Wilson married EI in a civil ceremony at Daley Center with Cruz as witness.


Following the wedding, Wilson and EI along with others went to lunch at a restaurant, where EI paid defendant $3,500. To make the marriage appear legitimate, they needed to get bills in both of their names; put EI’s address on Wilson’s ID, get car insurance together and get joint bank accounts.


After the wedding, EI started paying defendant $500 a month, often in cash at work, from Cruz. Wilson got the last payment of $300 in or about May 2009.


On June 28, 2004, Wilson signed a I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Form on behalf of EI, where she falsely indicated that she and EI lived together continuously although they never did.


They were interviewed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on March 10, 2005.


Wilson was assisted in her defense by Atty. Jerry Bischoff.  # # #


Editor’s Note: To contact the author, please e-mail him at:  (


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Comments (3)
1 Sunday, 27 March 2011 08:36
Here is my story on why I pleaded guilty on something that is just commonly talked about,something that started innocent,one that is not thought of to be against the law.I am one of the defendants and I was charged of conspiracy along with 9 others.On my part,there was no money involved,I am not one of those who sold their US Citizenship nor I am involved in couching married couples on how to evade immigration laws.I was just merely helping couples recommended by Maria Flodeliz Cruz who,I know,even before they got married,that they do not have an intention to live together and yet,I continue on helping them prepare the documents,and this action,which again seem so innocent,is against the law.I was made to understand,that if I knew that the marriage is going to be s sham,I would not have helped them prepare their documents.Indeed, too harsh of a punishment that I have to bear,now,I will have a criminal record tied up to my name.I have learned a lot from this experience.One hard truth which is so confusing is how the prosecution could accept the lies of their witnesses. But my lawyer was quick to help me unburdened by saying that I should move past this experience and leave the lies to the conscience of the liars. I pray for a fair sentence for us who have pleaded guilty and I wish the other defendants who will go to trial well.
2 Monday, 11 April 2011 05:42
My name is Maria Cyd Adriatico-Fernandez and again,my clarification on why I pleaded guilty.I am one of the defendants,I was not involved in arranging of marriages,I never coached any of the mentioned couples so they will pass the USCIS interview nor did I sell my US Citizenship.And why then was I charged?It was because Maria Flordelis Pulido Cruz happened to be a friend and just like any other friends,would recommend couples to me in the preparation of their USCIS Applications. I gained knowledge through self-learning after I got frustrated with Immigration Lawyers and decided to learn and do research on the updates regarding immigration on my own.However,for those referred by Maria Cruz,upon interview,most were investigated further and were found to be in sham marriages and further investigation led the authorities to Maria Cruz as the arranger.Since I was the one who prepared the applications of some of the marriages involved,I was then charged with conspiracy.The charges against me has nothing to do with Maria Cruz.I WAS MADE TO UNDERSTAND THAT I WAS CHARGED BECAUSE I CONTINUED ON HELPING THE COUPLES WITH THEIR APPLICATIONS EVEN IF I KNEW THAT THEY HAVE NO INTENTION OF LIVING TOGETHER.This is the sad part because actually,out of the seven couples whose documents I helped prepare,I only knew 2 of them before they even got married that they do not have any intention of living together,this action seem so innocent,but not in the eyes of the law.I pleaded guilty because I have to take responsibility for my actions.Believed me,I fought for what I think is my innocence. What a price I have to pay for something that I value so much,being of help to anyone who needed my assistance in immigration matters for FREE. Much as this is a learning experience,there are things that I may not be able to comprehend, like the lies and manufactured statement by the witnesses of the prosecution becomes acceptable and the defendant's explanation would not matter anymore,you will have to explain your side in court,too late really,there is no further investigation as to the veracity of their statement and why should there be a plea agreement,and many more that is so complex and confusing. Unfortunately,I am embroiled in a case that is considered high profile,which Chicago is known for,my case,involving Cook County Employees and a Fil-Am Lawyer as defendants will surely be interesting.I came with this unfortunate conclusion because in the discoveries,there is another person mentioned there as a marriage arranger,enough evidence against this person could warrant an arrest,but up to this writing,there is no news of this. I really had a hard time dealing with the lies of the witnesses ,the very people who would call and seek my assistance any time of the day,and also,some inaccuracies on the report of the investigation done against me, but my lawyer,Atty. Damon Cheronis, young and respectable, advised me to move past this experience,live well, and leave the lies to their conscience. I know that Judge Samuel Der-Yeghian is fair,he would know what I deserve and I will just let the law take its course.Please keep us in your prayers,especially those who are going to trial and as well as I will keep you in mine.
3 Tuesday, 28 June 2011 15:05
I am curious to know about the trial of attorney Aguja, but I did not see any news?

I will keep all of the accused in my prayers.

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