Pennsylvania marriage fraud ringleader pleads guilty

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Guilty plea follows ICE outreach campaign warning the public not to say 'I do' to marriage fraud

PHILADELPHIA – A Warrington woman pleaded guilty Thursday for her role in a conspiracy to arrange fraudulent marriages for illegal aliens from Uzbekistan and Russia. The guilty plea follows the launch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s nationwide outreach campaign warning the public that marriage fraud is a federal crime that carries significant prison sentences and possible six-figure fines.

Larissa Hlukha, 56, a self-employed international consultant, notary public and Russian translator, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to conspiracy to commit fraud and fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents in connection with immigration documents. She faces up to 15 years in prison, six years of supervised release and up to a $500,000 fine at her sentencing July 23 before U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones.

The guilty plea follows an investigation led by ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance from the FBI’s Philadelphia Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).

"Marriage fraud is a federal crime and unfortunately one that is all too common," said John P. Kelleghan, special agent in charge for HSI Philadelphia. "Schemes like this not only damage the integrity of America’s legal immigration system, but they could also potentially pose a significant security vulnerability."

According to the plea memorandum, Hlukha’s co-conspirators Charles Brion, 50, and Jill Ritsky, 46, both of Philadelphia, agreed to marry foreign nationals for money and are alleged to have actively participated in schemes to make the resulting marriages appear legitimate to immigration officials. Hlukha pleaded guilty to assisting in the filing of false immigration documents and facilitating fraudulent marriages for which she charged approximately $20,000 to $25,000. The sham marriage licenses were obtained at Montgomery County courthouses. The Yerkes Wedding Salon in Lansdowne was used for the sham marriage ceremonies.

From September 2007 through April 2011, Hlukha admitted to arranging and assisting in the filing of false immigration documents for 10 nationals of Uzbekistan, Russia and Ukraine. Copies of immigration documents pertaining to the 10 sham marriages were obtained by HSI and FBI special agents after they executed a search warrant on Hlukha’s residence April 1, 2011.

As part of the scheme, Hlukha instructed the Russian and Uzbekistan nationals and her co-conspirators in the sham marriages how to make their relationships appear genuine by being prepared to answer questions regarding how they met and about their parents. Hlukha would file the applications for adjustment of status containing false statements to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Additionally, she took photographs of the sham couples and then used the photo album for the immigration paperwork submitted to USCIS.

On March 27, Ritsky pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with falsifying immigration documents. Brion is awaiting a court appearance April 9.

The alien beneficiaries of this fraudulent scheme face administrative proceedings.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Terri A. Marinari is prosecuting the case in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

On March 31, posters created by ICE were launched at bus shelters in Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C. warning the public that marriage fraud is a federal crime that carries significant prison sentences and possible six-figure fines. The posters are part of a nationwide outreach campaign targeting three major U.S. cities. The posters feature a photo showing the inside of a church juxtaposed with an image depicting the interior of a jail. The accompanying text warns that those who walk down the aisle of the church for the "wrong reasons" may end up walking down the aisle of a jail. ICE officials acknowledge it is a strong message, but say the stern language is needed to remind the public about the possible consequences associated with sham marriages.

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