Los Angeles, California - A Santa Fe Springs man who posed as an attorney and his daughter were arrested Wednesday morning for allegedly orchestrating an elaborate immigration fraud scheme in which Chinese nationals paid tens of thousands of dollars to be "married" to United States citizens.
A federal criminal complaint filed Tuesday alleges that Chinese nationals paid up to $50,000 to enter into sham marriages in the hopes of obtaining lawful permanent resident cards – often referred to as "green cards" – that would allow them to legally reside in the United States. The affidavit in support of the complaint outlines a scheme in which the purported attorney and his daughter lined up U.S. citizen "spouses" for their clients, coached the couples on how to make the marriages appear genuine when questioned by immigration authorities, prepared and filed immigration petitions, and created fraudulent paper trails for the "couples" — including phony apartment leases, wedding photos, bank statements and income tax returns.
The two defendants arrested Wednesday morning are:
- Jason Shiao, also known as "Jason Zheng" and "Zheng Yi Xiao," 65, who allegedly posed as an immigration lawyer; and
- Shiao's daughter, Lynn Leung, also known as "Linda," 43, of Pasadena.
A third defendant charged in the case, Shannon Mendoza, 48, of Pacoima, remains at large and is still being sought.
This case is the result of a three-year undercover probe by the Los Angeles Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, which includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS) Fraud Detection and National Security unit. The two defendants arrested Wednesday morning were taken into custody by HSI special agents.
Shiao and Leung are expected to make their initial appearances Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
"Marriage fraud presents a serious threat to the integrity of our immigration system by undermining programs designed to allow foreign nationals to come to the United States in a fair and orderly fashion," said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker.
While Shiao and Leung served as brokers by allegedly arranging the sham marriages and filing immigration applications, Mendoza acted as a recruiter by finding U.S. citizens who were willing to enter into sham marriages in exchange for payments of up to $10,000. According to the affidavit, however, most of the nearly two dozen "spouses" interviewed by investigators never received the amount they were promised. Mendoza allegedly sought out prospective United States citizen "spouses" who were in dire financial straits and then arranged for them to meet Shiao and Leung.
The affidavit describes how the defendants went to considerable lengths to make the unions appear real. For example, Shiao and Leung allegedly paid for one "couple" to visit the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas for a purported "honeymoon," and they allegedly held an actual marriage ceremony at the Dynasty Wedding Studio in Temple City.
"Hollywood may portray marriage fraud as a romantic farce, but it's a serious crime with serious implications," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. "Schemes like this not only undermine the integrity of our nation's legal immigration system, they pose a security vulnerability and potentially rob deserving immigrants of benefits they rightfully deserve."
As part of Wednesday's enforcement action, HSI special agents executed a search warrant at Jason Shiao's Pasadena business, Zhengyi and Associates, formerly known as Jason (USA) International Law Corporation. During the search, authorities seized computers, electronic storage devices and documents thought to be related to the alleged marriage fraud scheme.
The investigation in this case began in September 2012 based on information provided by an anonymous caller who contacted HSI's toll-free tip line. To date, investigators have identified more than 70 fraudulent immigration applications associated with the defendants, with some dating as far back as October 2006 and others filed as recently as two months ago. Authorities believe the defendants' clients learned about the service through word of mouth or from advertisements in Chinese newspapers.
"USCIS is committed to ensuring the integrity and security of our nation's immigration system," said USCIS Los Angeles District Director Susan M. Curda. "USCIS is vigilant in addressing all cases involved in an immigration fraud and revoking or rescinding benefits that have been obtained unlawfully, while at the same time ensuring that individuals who are eligible for benefits are not harmed by the unscrupulous actions of others."
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The charge of conspiracy to commit visa fraud carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in prison. In addition to prison time, if convicted, Shiao and Leung – who are dual citizens of China and Australia, and themselves lawful permanent residents of the United States – face possible deportation.