11 Face Sham-marriage Charges Non-citizens sought improved immigrant status, agents say
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 3:05 AM
By John Futty
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
A group of central Ohioans arranged sham marriages for Eastern European immigrants attempting to evade U.S. immigration laws, according to a federal indictment unsealed yesterday.
Agents have arrested nine people accused of taking part in the scheme. Two others remained at large last night.
The conspirators allegedly charged about $17,000 for each arranged marriage, recruiting citizens willing to take a cut to marry non-citizens, prosecutors said.
The marriages were arranged beginning in 2007 “to lend the appearance of being legitimate marriages in order to assist non-citizens in fraudulently achieving a more favorable status with United States immigration authorities,” the indictment states.
“The non-citizens involved are from the former Soviet republics,” said Fred Alverson, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office. “This occurred within a tight-knit community.”
The following defendants appeared yesterday in U.S. District Court in Columbus:
• Hasan Salohudtdinov, 28, of Dublin, charged with conspiracy, fraud and misuse of immigration documents.
• Dmitry Pani, 28, of Dublin, charged with conspiracy.
• Sviatlana A. Piskunova, 22, of Columbus, charged with conspiracy, fraud, marriage fraud and misuse of immigration documents.
• Laura Elizabeth Grace Scott, 20, of Columbus, charged with conspiracy and marriage fraud.
• Courtnie Susann Good, 20, of Columbus, charged with marriage fraud.
• Iskander Odilovich Tairov, 20, of western Franklin County, charged with marriage fraud.
• Brent James Woods, 25, of Columbus, charged with marriage fraud.
Salohudtdinov, Pani, Piskunova and Tairov were ordered held without bond by U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley. Scott and Good were released on their own recognizance.
Djafar B. Sobirov, 29, of Columbus, and Ladawna Sharee Tackett, 20, of West Jefferson, both indicted for marriage fraud, were at large.
Agents also arrested Sobithon A. Mirzaey, 22, in New Orleans, and Elbek A. Saidjanov, 22, in Philadelphia. Both allegedly took part in sham marriages in central Ohio and are charged with marriage fraud and misuse of immigrant documents.
Prosecutors said the marriages took place primarily at the Columbus Wedding Services Chapel, 761 S. High St.
Marge Butler, who operates the business with her husband, said yesterday that she was unaware of the scheme.
“We are not required to ask for identification or ask any questions,” she said. “Regardless of what we think or feel, if they give us a valid marriage license, that’s it.”
Each count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and marriage fraud is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Foreign nationals face deportation after any prison time served.