Two Chicago-area residents were sentenced to federal prison Tuesday for arranging sham marriages that helped foreign nationals evade U.S. immigration laws.
Teresita Zarrabian, 62, was sentenced to 36 months in prison after she pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to commit marriage fraud, according to a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Zarrabian is a Des Plaines resident and naturalized U.S. citizen from the Philippines, the statement said. She owns Zarrabian and Associates, an Arlington Heights-based immigration consulting business.
In her plea agreement, Zarrabian admitted she arranged at least 33 fraudulent marriages over a series of seven years, mostly involving Filipino nationals who paid between $8,000 and $17,000 to marry a U.S. citizen, the statement said.
The U.S. citizens who were recruited were paid about $5,000 each, the statement said. A co-conspirator in the case, Michael Smith, was sentenced last November to one year in prison in connection with the scheme.
In a separate case, 36-year-old Streamwood resident Olumuyiwa “Mike” Adeniyi was sentenced to three months in prison. He pleaded guilty in March to aiding and abetting visa fraud for petitions filed in conjunction with a sham marriage.
Adeniyi, a naturalized citizen from Nigeria, arranged at least four sham marriages between Nigerian nationals and U.S. citizens, who were paid between $1,000 and $3,000, the statement said.
Foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens can lawfully become permanent residents, but not if the marriage is a sham in order to get around immigration laws, according to ICE.
“Marriage fraud undermines our nation’s legitimate immigration system and creates a security vulnerability,” said James Gibbons, acting special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in Chicago.
“Anyone who engages in marriage fraud is taking an illegal shortcut to U.S. citizenship,” Gibbons said in the prepared statement. “HSI will continue to aggressively investigate this type of criminal activity.”