While there's a lot of talk about beefing up border security and strengthening immigration laws, even that wouldn't be enough to stop an alleged scam making its way around Houston. Some area women are finding themselves at the center of federal fraud investigations after marrying men seeking citizenship. "On October 30, 2013 I went to the civil courthouse and got married," but Kathleen Moore says she and her husband Mogbolahan Ojeyinka are only married on paper. "We've never lived together. We've never dated. We never consummated the marriage, none of that," explains Moore.
In fact, Moore recently filed a complaint with United States immigration officials claiming Ojeyinka, who's from Nigeria, only married her to gain U-S citizenship. "I was promised $10,000. You get half up front. You get half after he gets his citizenship," Moore explains. She believes she was targeted by a marriage fraud ring and she may be right. "We know there is a problem out there. We've seen this problem pretty serious with West Africans, not just Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya. We have a case pending in Judge Melinda Harmon's court. Five defendants, Kenyans charged in a marriage fraud case. It begins to mushroom. When they find some success then they find relatives and friends who also want to come in," says Deputy Criminal Chief with the U.S. Attorney's Office Edward Gallagher. Gallagher says the U.S. Department of Justice is finding these African men seeking citizenship are targeting women with drug habits or single mothers who have fallen on tough financial times. "Economic dire straits, just needs the money. Will do anything for the money," says Gallagher.
"They seek out women that are vulnerable, on financial assistance, are single parents," says Moore who says she was approached by someone at a social services office. Moore and her 11-year-old daughter have been homeless for nearly a year. "He said I could really set it up to where you don't have anything to worry about". Moore says she met her now husband and was hesitant to take part in the scam but then she says he started with "the sweet talk" saying she had actually caught his eye some time ago. "He had been watching me for two years and there was something about me he just liked," says Moore. So she married him. She says Ojeyinka works as a mechanical engineer and his work visa was scheduled to expire in the summer of 2013.
So how much of that $10,000 has Moore received? "Haven't received a dime". Moore says her husband is now threatening her if she doesn't stop contacting him asking for the money. "He's telling me you can't expose this because you're going to jail. I don't have to pay you. I'm not paying you a dime. I just want to warn women. It's not worth it. Please stay away from scams like this. Stay away from it. The only thing that happens is you become embarrassed and humiliated," says Moore.
Moore's husband, Mr. Ojeyinka, has not been charged with marriage fraud or anything else at this point. Marriage fraud is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Brokers using citizenship fraud as a business can get up to ten years for unlawful immigration practices. This type of fraud keeps federal investigators busy. "We are looking at organizations. We're looking at large numbers. We're looking at schemes. We are also looking at law firms," explains Gallagher.
The women or targets often receive a much less severe punishment. Some are even treated as witnesses. Victims can also come from the other extreme. One woman recently learned of this immigration marriage fraud the hard way. She's now in the process of losing her home in an exclusive Houston neighborhood after she says she quickly married a man from Nigeria because she thought it was love at first sight. She says he disappeared after securing his citizenship and he took most of her money with him. If you or someone you know find yourself in this situation contact Homeland Security Investigations at (281) 985-0500 to report accusations of immigration marriage fraud.