Four land in prison over sham weddings in marriage fraud conspiracy

HOUSTON

On Wednesday, US District Judge Melinda Harmon sentenced Alfonso Ongaga and Andrew Mokoro to 16 months in federal prison, while Ogoti and Rebmann Ongaga each received six-month terms. Judge Harmon also signed an order revoking the naturalization of Ogoti and Alfonso Ongaga, thereby stripping them of their fraudulently acquired US citizenship.

A fifth defendant charged in the case, Andrew Mitema, 35, of Houston, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and tampering with a witness. He is set for sentencing on April 23, 2014.

Authorities say the defendants conspired together to recruit and pay US citizens to enter into fraudulent marriages for the purpose of receiving lawful permanent resident status or citizenship. Before entering the US, each of the defendants applied for student visas. All but Rebmann Ongaga were granted those visas and used them to enter the country.

After his student visa was denied, Rebmann Ongaga flew a recruited US citizen to Kenya in order to hold a sham wedding ceremony. After two days in Kenya, the woman returned to the United States. Several months later, Rebmann Ongaga entered the US with a spouse visa.

After entering the country, the remaining defendants married recruited American citizens, most of whom were related to each other and to the citizen who traveled to Kenya. Authorities say each recruited woman was to be paid $5,000 for her participation in the sham marriages.

The scheme was uncovered Nov. 10, 2009, after two additional recruited women were detained at the US Passport Office in Houston, suspected of committing passport fraud. They had told officials that they were traveling to Africa "to see the animals," although they did not know where. Upon further questioning, they admitted they were both recruited to travel to Africa to marry the recruiters' family members. At trial, surveillance video showed the two women entering into the passport office with a male, later identified as Mokoro.

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