USCIS Discusses Florida Marriage Fraud Ring Investigation

Eliza Grinberg's picture

On February 22, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a press release titled “USCIS Efforts Lead to Sentencing in Florida Marriage Fraud Ring” [PDF version]. The post details how the USCIS assisted in an investigation into a marriage fraud ring operating out of Brevard County, Florida, that led to three convictions in Federal court. In this post, we will examine the details of the investigation and criminal proceedings.

In October of 2015, USCIS worked with the Brevard County Clerk to investigate a surge of individuals from several former Soviet countries marrying U.S. citizens in Brevard County. On July 13, 2016, two individuals were arrested as a result of this investigation: Denis Yakovlev, 40, of Russia, and Meghan Toole, 28, of Cocoa, Florida.

Yakovlev admitted to introducing approximately 100 individuals to each other over an 18-month period in order to facilitate sham marriages for immigration benefits. He stated that U.S. citizens were paid between $10,000 and $20,000, each, to enter into the sham marriages, whereas he in turn was paid about $1,000 to $2,000 per each of these sham marriages.

Yakovlev recruited William Matthew Tex Price to participate in the marriage fraud ring. In August of 2015, Price recruited a U.S. citizen to enter into a fraudulent marriage with Khagan Mushfig Oglu Nibili, a citizen of Azerbaijan. The U.S. citizen whom Price recruited filed a spousal-based immigrant visa petition on behalf of Nibili in an attempt to procure lawful permanent resident status for him. In September of 2015, Price recruited Toole, his ex-wife, to enter into a sham marriage with Bakhramovich Yadigarvov, a citizen of Uzbekistan. Price himself entered into two sham marriages with Maria Rogacheva of Russia and Svetlana Vladimirovna Shakhramanyan of Azerbaijan. Rogacheva subsequently sought relief from prosecution by filing a battered spouse petition based on her sham marriage to Price. However, she would eventually admit that she had not entered into the marriage in good faith, had never lived with Price as husband and wife, and had never been battered by Price.

Price was sentenced to two years in prison for marriage fraud. Rogacheva was sentenced to five months in prison. Nibili was sentenced to time served.

Yakovolev and Toole had previously pled guilty for their involvement in the marriage fraud ring in 2016. Yakovlev was sentenced to 15 months in prison for encouraging or inducing an alien to reside in the United States. Toole was sentenced to four months in prison for marriage fraud. On January 2, 2018, April Coleen Moore pled guilty for entering into a sham marriage with Valiry Tsoy of Uzbekistan.

The USCIS stated that further proceedings will commence in May involving the marriage fraud ring, when Tsoy, Yadigarov, and Shakhramanyan are set for trial. Regarding the latter three individuals, the USCIS noted that the indictment only consists of allegations, and that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Marriage fraud is an extremely serious offense in the immigration context. Furthermore, as the press release shows, marriage fraud may also expose participants to criminal liability. To learn more about marriage fraud in the immigration context, please see our overview [see article] and our article on limited avenues for relief from immigration consequences of marriage fraud [see article].

USCIS Discusses Florida Marriage Fraud Ring Investigation