Los Angeles-area imposter attorney sentenced to prison in marriage fraud scheme
LOS ANGELES — A Santa Fe Springs man who posed as an attorney as part of an elaborate immigration fraud scheme in which at least 87 foreign nationals – mostly Chinese citizens – paid tens of thousands of dollars to be “married” to United States citizens was sentenced Monday to two years in federal prison.
Jason Shiao, also known as “Zheng Yi Xiao,” 67, who operated the Pasadena-based Jason (USA) International Law Corporation, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer.
Shiao “assisted foreign nationals who were seeking to obtain lawful permanent resident status to remain in this country by arranging fraudulent marriages for those foreign nationals to United States citizen spouses,” according to documents filed by prosecutors in relation to Monday’s sentencing.
Shiao was initially charged in this case in 2015, and in January he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and marriage fraud.
The case is the result of an undercover probe by the Los Angeles Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, which includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fraud Detection and National Security Unit.
“This sentence should serve as a warning about the serious consequences awaiting those who exploit America’s legal immigration system for personal profit,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge of HSI in Los Angeles. “Schemes like this not only undermine the integrity of our immigration system, they pose a security vulnerability and potentially rob deserving immigrants of benefits they rightfully deserve.”
As part of the scheme, Shiao falsely claimed to be an attorney, paid U.S. citizens thousands of dollars to participate in the scheme, introduced immigrants seeking benefits to American citizens to facilitate the sham marriages, instructed his clients to pose for wedding photographs and told clients to lie to officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
According to court documents, 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.
Shiao’s daughter, Lynn Leung, 45, of Pasadena, also pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge. Leung was sentenced last week by Judge Fischer to six months in prison.
A third defendant charged in the case – Shannon Mendoza, 50, of Pacoima – was transferred to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where he is also being prosecuted for drug trafficking charges based on conduct allegedly committed while on pre-trial release in the immigration fraud case.
While Shiao and Leung served as brokers by arranging the sham marriages and filing immigration applications, Mendoza allegedly acted as a recruiter by finding U.S. citizens who were willing to enter into sham marriages in exchange for payments of up to $15,000.
Court documents describe how the defendants went to considerable lengths to make the fake marriages appear real. According to Shiao’s plea agreement, he and his daughter prepared documentation that was filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to bolster the validity of the fraudulent marriages, including staged photographs of “wedding ceremonies” and bogus tax returns, life insurance policies, joint bank account information and apartment lease applications.
The probe began in September 2012, based on information provided by an anonymous caller who contacted HSI.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheila Nagaraj of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Galatzan of the Asset Forfeiture Section also worked on the case.