Fraudulent marriages: the crime, the victims, the outcomes

By Yuki Nakajima
Northwest Asian Weekly

Many Asian people are able to live in the United States because they married U.S. citizens. It is one of the ways to become an American citizen.

However, some people take advantage of marriage to earn money.

The U.S. Department of Justice of Western District of Washington recently had two large-scale cases of marriage fraud.

Brothers Loc Huu Nguyen and Phuoc Nguyen committed visa fraud and laundered money. Vuthy Sim committed visa fraud, laundered money, and concealed an illegal immigrant.

Ye-Ting Woo and Douglas Whalley are both assistant U.S. attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice. Woo prosecuted Sim’s case, and Whalley prosecuted the Nguyen brothers’ case.

Due to the Nguyen brothers’ case, the United States decided to stop giving fiancée visas to Vietnamese nationals for approximately six months.

“It made it harder for [people to get fiance visas] because of the fact that there are so many fraudulent marriages,” Woo said.

The Nguyen brothers, from Vancouver, Wash., recruited U.S. citizens to travel to Vietnam in order to fabricate engagements with Vietnamese nationals.

The Nguyens facilitated their unlawful entry into the United States. In addition to $10,000, the recruits were offered a free trip to Vietnam. The Vietnamese nationals were charged between $20,000 and $30,000 for the service. This conspiracy started in 2000.

Over the next four years, the Nguyens, along with their sisters, committed visa fraud by recruiting more than 130 young Americans to pose as fiancées.
The Nguyen brothers were subsequently sentenced to three years in prison.

In 2002, Vuthy Sim of Federal Way recruited U.S. citizens to participate in fraudulent marriages with Cambodian nationals. Sim prepared the immigration paperwork, had the U.S. citizen sign it, and then submitted the paperwork to Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Sim profited in excess of $160,000.

Woo and Whalley agreed that the U.S. citizens who participated always knew the marriage was a sham.

“The person who marries them gets some money, but the people who organize it gets lots of money,” Whalley said. “People are getting $15,000 to $20,000 [per person when they gain entry into the United States].”

“In the Cambodian case, it was as much as $30,000 per marriage,” Woo said.

For marriage fraud, non-U.S. citizens always petition for a fiancée visa instead of coming as a visitor because it is a faster way to get the visa and they can stay longer.

“The fraud is in the fiancée visa because [of] the lie in the form that says, ‘This is my fiancée. This is the person I intend to live with.’ That’s the fraud,” Woo said.

One of the ways to find out if a marriage is legitimate is by talking to the people who know the couple and asking questions to see if they are sharing a life together.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) conducts unannounced home visits.

By doing this, USCIS can check and see if the couple is actually living together.

Moreover, the couple must go through a personal interview at the district office of USCIS.

Whalley said USCIS does this to all applicants because it is their part of the investigation.

Language barriers are also a key in discovering marriage fraud. Whalley says that some couples can’t even speak the other’s language, and it never occurs to them to fake it.

Woo says she doesn’t know if the nationals are told about the interview until they get to the United States. She said they do try to prepare for it, but they don’t know what the questions are.

“We have a tape where they were sitting down, recording an interview. [We asked] ‘What is your fiancée’s name?’ and he couldn’t think of it,” Whalley said. ♦

For more information, visit The United States Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington at

Yuki Nakajima can be reached at

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