Twelve men and women are accused of creating sham marriages to help foreigners evade U.S. immigration laws.
A federal criminal bill of indictment unsealed in Asheville on Wednesday charges the 12 with marriage fraud conspiracy and related offenses.
The scheme involved foreigners paying $1,500 to $3,000 for fake marriages with U.S. citizens to secure lawful, permanent residence in the country, according to the indictment. Based in the N.C. mountain counties of Swain and Jackson, the scheme started in June 2015 and continued through December 2016, federal prosecutors said.
Most of those charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation are from Cherokee in the N.C. mountains. Others are from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and the nation of Israel.
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Once paired, the U.S. citizens and non-citizens went to Sevier County, Tenn., to marry each other, the indictment says.
After getting their marriage certificates, most of the non-citizens applied for adjustments to their immigration status based on their marriages to their U.S. spouses, federal prosecutors said.
Two of the accused also acted at times as “sponsors” for the non-citizens’ applications for adjustments to their immigration status. They received more money in exchange.
Seven of the accused were arrested Wednesday and appeared in federal court. Five have yet to be arrested.
Charged with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud are Cherokee residents Ruth Marie Sequoyah McCoy, 54; Timothy Ray Taylor, 41; Golan Perez, 38; Kaila Nikelle Cucumber, 27; Jessica Marie Gonzalez, 26; Jordan Elizabeth Littlejohn, 28; and Kevin Dean Swayney, 36.
Also charged with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud are Ofir Marsiano, 41, of Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; Ilya Dostanov, 28, of Panama City, Fla,; Ievgenii Reint, 26, of St. Simons Island, Ga.; Shaul Levy, 26, of Norfolk, Va.; and Yana Peltz, 30, of Israel.
Marsiano also was charged with four counts of marriage fraud, and McCoy and Perez each with three counts of marriage fraud. Taylor, Cucumber, Gonzalez, Littlejohn, Swayney, Dostanov, Levi and Peltz each face an additional count of marriage fraud.
Littlejohn, Dostanov, Reint, Levy and Peltz have yet to be arrested.
Marriage fraud conspiracy and marriage fraud each carry a maximum five years in prison per count.