3 charged in sham marriage scheme in California

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Southern California man, his daughter and an associate are charged with running an elaborate sham marriage ring that secured green cards for Chinese citizens by wedding them to Americans, authorities said Wednesday.

Jason Shiao, 65, and his daughter Lynn Leung, 43, were arrested on charges of conspiring to commit visa fraud for allegedly arranging the phony marriages and charging Chinese citizens as much as $50,000 to get their legal residency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

Authorities said they were still searching for 48-year-old Shannon Mendoza, who is accused of recruiting American spouses in dire need of cash for the schemes.

Shiao posed as a lawyer, authorities said, and with Leung ran a Pasadena-based business that paired up couples and snapped photos of them together in bridal gear and on purported honeymoon trips. The pictures were aimed at making the couple’s marriages seem legitimate to immigration officers reviewing their green card applications, authorities said.

Since October 2006, more than 70 fraudulent immigration petitions were filed, netting the business $3.5 million, said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of ICE’s homeland security investigations in Los Angeles.

Arnold said marriage fraud has been rampant for more than two decades but is frequently downplayed on television and in movies such as “Green Card.”

“It is glamorized in Hollywood movies as you are helping someone out,” Arnold said. “The people who are facilitating this — they’re not in it to help someone out. They’re not a charitable organization. They’re just trying to line their pockets.”

Shiao and Leung were due to appear in federal court in Los Angeles later Wednesday. A message was left for Shiao’s lawyer, Pedro Castillo. Leung’s attorney, Errol Stambler, had no immediate comment on the allegations.

Authorities said the business advertised in Chinese-language newspapers in California and paid some Americans to travel abroad and take photos with aspiring immigrants to try to make the marriages look authentic.

In one instance, a gay American man who had a boyfriend was recruited to marry a Chinese woman, who already had a husband. The American man was promised $18,000 and was sent on a paid trip to Las Vegas, where he posed for photos with his arranged wife, federal investigators said in court filings.

Later, during an interview with an immigration officer, the American acknowledged he was gay, the court papers said.

If convicted, Shiao and Leung could lose their green cards and face deportation proceedings. Both are citizens of China and Australia, authorities said.

Immigration officials said they learned of the scheme in 2012 after an anonymous caller contacted a toll-free tip line.