ORLANDO — More than 80 people were arrested in a federal sweep of four companies that allegedly arranged fraudulent marriages to earn immigrants citizenship, even organizing wedding photos with bridal gowns and elaborate, but fake, wedding cakes, federal officials said Friday.
The immigrants allegedly paid as much as $10,000, while the American citizens were offered $2,000 or $2,500, U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill said. Officials said the couples were coached on how to pass immigration checks with fake answers, and in some cases didn't even share a common language with their purported spouse.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were tipped off in many instances by judges from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which reviews each citizenship-conferring marriage to ensure legitimacy. At least one of the businesses kept a standing wedding showroom in its office, complete with a prop cake, an assortment of 10 to 15 wedding dresses and table settings never dirtied with dinner or drink.
Robert Weber, special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Tampa, characterized the fraudulent marriages as a threat to national security.
"(The Americans) did not know their motives, they did not know their intent, they didn't know where they were coming from — in this case from 11 different nationalities," Weber said. "They did it for financial gain; they were willing to put our national security and domestic public safety at risk."
Officials said some of the immigrants had criminal records, ranging from burglary to battery, drug offenses, domestic violence and even aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. They were primarily from Central America and South America, though at least one immigrant was from Morocco.
The four companies that allegedly arranged the marriages were incorporated as immigration assistance services. They were All Kind Services, A-3 Services, American Solutions and Services — all in the Orlando area — and Power of Attorney, based in Daytona Beach. Officials said more arrests were expected.
Those arrested were from Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa, Sarasota, Cocoa Beach and Fort Myers.