ALBUQUERQUE – Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney and Special Agent in Charge Waldemar Rodriguez of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in El Paso, Texas, announced the filing of an indictment against two U.S. citizens and four Chinese nationals on charges arising out of an alleged scheme to obtain immigration status for foreign nationals through fraudulent marriages.
The indictment charges Yi Lee, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen who had been residing in Santa Fe, N.M., Santiago Aveles, 31, of Las Cruces, N.M., and Chia-Jung Chang, 39, Dan Zheng, 32, Lian Xiang Deng, 42, and Xiao-Yin Le, 50, who are Chinese nationals illegally in the United States, with participating in a conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. It also charges Aveles and Zheng with committing marriage fraud for the purpose of evading the federal immigration laws.
Aveles, Chang, Zheng, and Deng, who were arrested last week, were arraigned in federal court in Las Cruces, N.M., this afternoon. Each entered a not guilty plea during this afternoon’s arraignment hearings. The three Chinese nationals were ordered detained pending trial and Aveles was released under pretrial supervision and other conditions of release. The fifth and sixth defendants, Yi Lee and Xiao-Yan Le, have yet to be arrested and are considered fugitives.
The indictment alleges that from June 2016 through March 2017, the six defendants conspired to obtain immigration status for foreign nationals by committing marriage fraud. The scheme allegedly involved having utilizing U.S. citizens enter into fraudulent marriages with foreign nationals in return for financial gain. Lee allegedly facilitated the conspiracy by arranging meetings between foreign nationals and U.S. citizens in order to obtain marriage licenses, working permits and green cards for the foreign nationals who paid Lee and the U.S. citizens. According to the indictment, Lee allegedly attempted to arrange fraudulent marriages between certain of his co-defendants and undercover law enforcement agents.
If convicted of the charges in the indictment, each of the defendants faces a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment on the conspiracy charge, and Avelez and Zheng each face a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment on the marriage fraud charge. Charges in indictments are merely accusations, and all criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.