COLUMBIA, SC – United States Attorney Beth Drake released Friday that seven people pleaded guilty for a scheme where people were paid to enter into marriages in exchange for citizenship benefits.
Sonia Santaella Vieira, age 55, Adalberto Viera, age 60, Claudia Santaella Ferreira, age 53, Sidnei Ferreira, age 58, all of Myrtle Beach, and Amanda Santaella Ferreira, age 27, of Miami, and Colby Musser, age 31, of Murrells Inlet, pleaded guilty in federal court in Florence to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Nathalia Santaella Ferreira, age 32, of Miami, pleaded guilty to procuring citizenship unlawfully.
The judge will impose sentences after reviewing reports prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.
According to the press release, the defendants were involved in a marriage fraud conspiracy involving Brazilian aliens who were paying US citizens to enter into fraudulent marriages in order to gain United States citizenship.
In total, there were five fraudulent marriages. The U.S. citizens were paid more than $20,000 to enter into the marriages. The purpose of all of the marriages was to obtain permanent residency and ultimately United States citizenship. Both spouses submitted fraudulent forms and false affidavits to Citizenship and Immigration Services where each couple claimed, under oath, they were living together as husband and wife in legitimate marriages. During interviews, the couples repeated these false representations again under oath.
In all but one of the marriages, the fraud was caught before the Brazilian aliens could obtain citizenship. Only Nathalia Ferreira managed to obtain full citizenship before the fraud was detected. However, her conviction of procuring citizenship unlawfully will result in mandatory revocation of her citizenship.
The maximum penalty defendants can receive is imprisonment for 5 years, a fine of $250,000 and/or plus a special assessment of $100.
The case was investigated by agents of the ICE-Homeland Security Investigations and the FDNS Division of Citizenship and Immigration Services.