Nigerian marriage fraud leader and 2 associates convicted in Houston

HOUSTON — Three Houston residents were found guilty Monday after a five-day jury trial for conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, aiding/abetting marriage fraud, marriage fraud, theft of government funds and false statements.

This guilty verdict was announced by the following agency heads:  Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez, Southern District of Texas; Special Agent in Charge Mark B. Dawson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston; District Director Tony Bryson of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – District 33; and Special Agent in Charge Dax Roberson of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General – Investigations.

The federal jury deliberated for about four hours before convicting for conspiracy to commit marriage fraud Nigerian citizens Folarin H. Alabi, 35, and Justice Daniel, 41; and U.S. citizen Letrishia Andrews, 37, all Houston residents.  Alabi was the leader of the conspiracy and was also convicted of aiding and abetting marriage fraud. Daniel was further convicted on one count of marriage fraud.  The jury also convicted Andrews of aiding and abetting marriage fraud, theft of government funds and false statements related to her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applications.

These guilty verdicts bring to a total of 11 defendants now convicted in two separate, but related, cases of marriage fraud in a scheme involving Nigerian nationals.

The following eight others had previously pleaded guilty for their roles in this scheme: Nigerian citizen Ifeoma Adamolekun, 40, and U.S. citizen Charles R. Warren, 44, in the Alabi case, as well as Anisha Gable, 35, Anthony Andrews, 29, Shakietha Joseph, 41 and Trevor Frenney, 41 all Houston residents; and Nigerian citizens Michael Nathan, 38, and Hauwa Bello, 39, all Houston residents.

A “sham” marriage is a marriage that is entered into for the primary purpose of circumventing U.S. immigration laws. All 11 defendants conspired together in connection with a marriage fraud ring involving arranging “sham” marriages between recruited U.S. citizens and recruited Nigerian nationals. Evidence at trial revealed Alabi searched for and recruited Nigerian nationals at nightclubs.

The defendants paid U.S. citizens to enter into fraudulent marriages to Nigerian nationals who had originally entered the country on tourist visas. The conspirators then completed immigration documents and falsely submitted them to USCIS to obtain U.S. permanent resident status. As part of this conspiracy, the defendants took staged photographs of themselves as a couple to document an allegedly meaningful relationship. The conspirators also coached the recruits and/or the Nigerian nationals on what to say when questioned or interviewed by law enforcement or immigration officials about the legitimate nature of the marriages.

At trial, the government presented evidence that Alabi recruited Nigerian nationals, including Daniel, to enter into “sham” marriages with U.S. citizens to deceive immigration authorities and ultimately gain U.S. permanent resident status. The evidence proved Daniel knowingly married Andrews, a U.S. citizen, for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws. At the time of this conspiracy, Alabi and Daniel were citizens of Nigeria and had entered the U.S. temporarily on non-immigrant visas.

The jury also heard that Andrews submitted false SNAP applications claiming to be single, while at the same time, filing sworn immigration documents claiming to be married to Daniel.

The defense attempted to convince the jury that Andrews and Daniel had marital issues but were in a legitimate marriage despite all the documents and testimony to the contrary. The jury did not believe their claims and found them guilty as charged.

Each defendant faces up to five years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine on the conspiracy and marriage fraud counts. Andrews also faces an additional five years for the false statements, as well as a maximum of 10 years for theft of government funds. Sentencing is set for Aug. 3. All will remain in custody pending that hearing.

HSI, USCIS’s Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate conducted this joint investigation, along with Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General. These agencies work together on the HSI-led Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force which was established to combat these types of crimes where fraudulent representations are made to multiple government agencies.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rick Bennett and Julie Searle, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting this case.