SAN DIEGO – A Los Angeles man was convicted by a federal jury in Boston on Thursday for his role in operating a large-scale marriage fraud “agency” that arranged hundreds of sham marriages entered into for the primary purpose of circumventing immigration laws. This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the FBI and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, San Diego District.
“For six years, this fraudster made thousands of dollars by operating a fake agency aimed at creating marriage fraud,” said HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. “The sham marriages and illicit immigration benefits discovered in this case wasted countless federal resources which delayed an unknown number of legitimate marriages between foreign nationals and U.S. citizens and threatened national security by enabling individuals to remain in the country through deceit. HSI and our partnered agencies will dismantle organizations that look to exploit our nation’s immigration system.”
Engilbert Ulan, 42, a Philippine national residing in Los Angeles, was convicted of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and immigration document fraud. U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper scheduled sentencing for March 6, 2024. Ulan was arrested and charged along with 11 others in April 2022 in connection with the marriage fraud agency operated by Marcialito “Mars” Benitez.
“Mr. Ulan played a key role in operating a fraudulent marriage agency that arranged over 300 sham marriages that aimed to subvert immigration laws. It was a systematic fraud on the U.S. government.” said Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy. “Marriage fraud is a serious offense that undermines the foundation of our nation’s immigration system. Mr. Ulan and his co-conspirators not only exploited our immigration system for personal gain, but also compromised the United States’ principles of welcoming immigrants and prospective citizens. The swift and decisive enforcement action taken in this case reflects our commitment to preserving the integrity of the immigration process and upholding the values that have defined this nation.”
“It is the utmost honor and privilege to become an American citizen, but Engilbert Ulan made an absolute sham of that process. Mr. Ulan and his co-conspirators broke immigration laws that are in place to protect public safety and created an unfair disadvantage for those seeking to earn their citizenship lawfully,” said FBI – Boston Division Special Agent in Charge Jodi Cohen. “Today’s conviction should serve as a warning to others that the FBI and our law enforcement partners are united in our efforts to disrupt and dismantle large-scale criminal enterprises like this one that seek to circumvent our laws by fraudulent means.”
Ulan worked for what he and others referred to as an agency that arranged hundreds of sham marriages between foreign national clients and U.S. citizens, including at least one foreign national who resided in Massachusetts. The agency then prepared and submitted false petitions, applications and other documents to substantiate the sham marriages and secure adjustment of clients’ immigration statuses for a fee of between $20,000 and $30,000 in cash.
After pairing foreign national clients with U.S. spouses, the agency booked appointments to stage fake wedding ceremonies at chapels, parks and other locations, performed by hired online officiants. For many clients, the agency would take photos of undocumented clients and their spouses in front of prop wedding decorations for later submission with immigration petitions.
Evidence presented at trial established that, starting in or around 2019, Ulan worked out of brick-and-mortar offices in Los Angeles with Benitez and other co-conspirators. Among other things, Ulan conducted practice interviews with the agency’s clients and their fake spouses for the purpose of preparing the couples to pass required interviews with immigration authorities. Ulan coached the sham couples to provide the same, fabricated answers to questions posed during green card interviews and conceal the fraudulent nature of the marriages.
- Couples/spouses should be able to give THE SAME answers to all the questions correctly and confidently.
- Couples/spouses must provide supporting documents that they have their names TOGETHER.
(Documents that need to be provided are listed from the letter sent by USCIS.)
- Couples/spouses should show GOOD CHEMISTRY during the interview.
Ulan assisted clients with preparing fraudulent marriage and immigration documents, including fabricating supporting documents submitted as evidence of the marriage’s legitimacy. Ulan also rented out the use of his address to clients who lived outside of Los Angeles so they could list his address as their own on green card applications and related documents. This was to make it appear to immigration authorities that they were living with their sham spouses in the Los Angeles area. Ulan also received cash commissions for referring new clients to the agency.
During Ulan’s involvement in the conspiracy, between approximately Dec. 2019 and March 2022, the agency arranged sham marriages and submitted fraudulent immigration documents for more than 300 clients.
Ulan is the 10th defendant to be convicted in this case, with nine of his co-defendants having pleaded guilty. Benitez pleaded guilty on Sept. 27, 2023. and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 10, 2024.
The charge of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and immigration document fraud provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. sentencing guidelines and statutes.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys David M. Holcomb and Leslie A. Wright of the Securities, Financial and Cyber Fraud Unit are prosecuting the case.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HIS’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.