Several former and current Cook County Traffic Court employees were among those charged in allegedly arranging sham marriages to evade U.S. immigration laws.
Allegedly at the helm was, Maria F. Cruz, formerly of Chicago and a one time traffic court worker. She allegedly doubled as a fake wedding planner who helped recent immigrants become legal residents, possibly shaving years off the typical wait for citizenship, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
The charges resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to the indictment, Cruz and others recruited U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, primarily Filipinos, who entered into at least 15 sham marriages to evade immigration laws.
They allegedly worked the scheme through an immigration attorney Manny Aguja, 53, and his twin brother, Marc.
The "husbands" were allegedly paid $3,000 up front and then $300 a month to marry the brides.
As part of the scheme, couples were counseled on how to fill out paperwork such as the right way to putting their names on each other's cell phone bills.
In all, 10 people were indicted in a scheme that allegedly ran from 2003 to 2009.
Each defendant was charged with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Some defendants also were charged with additional counts of marriage or immigration fraud.
In addition to the 15 allegedly fraudulent marriages detailed in the indictment, Cruz allegedly attempted to arrange two additional marriages between individuals and ICE agents during an undercover investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Yonan, Northern District of Illinois, is prosecuting the case.
According to the to a U.S. Attorney's office press release, conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and marriage fraud carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Other immigration fraud counts in the indictment carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Cruz and several defendants will be ordered to appear for arraignment at a later date.