First comes love, then comes marriage. Afterwards the fraudster pleads guilty in federal court in connection with a scheme to obtain green cards for hundreds of undocumented migrants. Which is what Marcialito Biol Benitez, aka “Mars,” a Philippine national residing in Los Angeles, did. On September 27, 2023, Mars admitted to a scheme where he prepared and submitted false petitions and applications to substantiate the sham marriages and secure U.S. citizenship for clients at a fee of about $35,000 in cash. Each. Weddings are expensive after all.
Mars operated the agency out of brick-and-mortar offices in Los Angeles, where he employed his co-conspirators as staff. Mars’s staff allegedly assisted with arranging marriages, submitting fraudulent marriage and immigration documents for the agency’s clients – including false tax returns, as well as recruiting U.S. citizens to marry the agency’s clients in exchange for payment. After paring foreign national clients with citizen spouses, Mars’s agency staged fake wedding ceremonies at chapels, parks and other locations performed by hired online officiants. The agency would take photos of the happy couples in front of wedding decorations for later submission with immigration petitions.
Marriage wasn’t the only option to get citizenship though. Mars’s agency would also assist certain clients with obtaining green cards under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by claiming the undocumented clients had been abused by alleged American spouses. Specifically, the agency would submit fraudulent applications on clients’ behalf for temporary restraining orders against spouses based on fabricated domestic violence allegations. Mars’s agency would then submit the restraining order documentation along with immigration petitions to USCIS, to take advantage of VAWA provisions that permit non-citizen victims of spousal abuse to apply for lawful permanent resident status without their spouses’ involvement.
Domestic bliss isn’t for everyone though. And definitely not for Mars. Mars will be facing up to five years in prison.
Today’s Fraud of The Day is based on article “California man pleads guilty to arranging hundreds of sham marriages” published by The Washington Post onSeptember 28, 2023
BOSTON — A California man has pleaded guilty to arranging hundreds of sham marriages in an effort to circumvent immigration laws, federal prosecutors said.
Marcialito Biol Benitez, a 49-year-old Philippine national living in Los Angeles, pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and immigration document fraud. U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper scheduled sentencing for Jan. 10. A lawyer for Benitez said his client was declining to comment.