The nervous bride and groom met for the first time Oct. 7, 2020, in the parking lot of Hamburg Town Hall, right before they went in to obtain a marriage license.
The next day, they returned to the town clerk’s office, where they were married in a brief, civil ceremony. They went outside the building and posed for photographs to document the happy day.
It was all a sham, part of a widespread ring of fraudulent marriages that allowed foreign nationals to stay illegally in the United States, according to federal authorities.
But what the fraudsters did not know was the groom was an undercover New York State trooper. And the “clerk” who officiated at the wedding also was an undercover Homeland Security agent.
The woman who brokered the wedding in Hamburg, Delaina Shaw of Connecticut, and the Illinois attorney who helped with legal papers, Vishal Kamal Chhabria, pleaded guilty this year in Buffalo to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud.
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The ring involved assisting foreign nationals, mainly from India, in obtaining immigrant visas by arranging phony marriages with U.S. citizens, mainly in the Northeast, in exchange for money, according to court papers.
The payment consisted of a $15,000 down payment, $15,000 due on the day of the marriage and an additional $20,000 to be paid at $2,000 a month for 10 months, according to an affidavit from a Homeland Security agent. The cost of an attorney and a co-sponsor for the Citizen and Immigration Services application for a green card was extra.
That wasn’t the only fraudulent marriage that took place at Hamburg Town Hall. Shaw arranged marriages July 10, 2019, Sept. 25, 2019 and May 13, 2021, and others occurred this year, according to a criminal complaint.
Also charged with marriage fraud are Amelia Adams of Massachusetts, Barbara Yater of Connecticut and Vivek Patel, a United Kingdom citizen who lived in South Carolina. Adams was paid $6,000 for the July 10, 2019, wedding to someone she thought was from India, an indictment alleges. The indictment said Yater was paid $4,500 to marry someone she thought was from India Oct. 8, 2020, and Patel paid $8,000 to conspirators to marry someone he believed was a U.S. citizen May 13, 2021.
Two other Indian nationals, Dishant Patel and Shweta Patel told conspirators they were boyfriend and girlfriend who met in high school and were in the U.S. on expired visas. They arranged to each marry someone else in Hamburg Town Hall in January, according to a criminal complaint. After the marriages, the two pairs of newlyweds went to a nearby restaurant. They have been charged with marriage fraud.
Federal immigration law allows foreign nationals to become permanent residents based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. After submitting application forms, the couple must appear and answer questions under oath from a Citizen and Immigration Services adjudicator.
Shaw told an informant at one point that she had brokered about 20 marriages, and had married an immigrant in a fraudulent marriage herself.
Chhabria prepared false documents and coached newlyweds on what to say before their meeting with Citizen and Immigration Services. He asked one bride how to spell her husband’s name, and when she repeatedly misspelled it, he replied, “Just that one simple question can be a failure,” according to court papers.
He also cautioned, “You never want to go down a rabbit hole of like, lies on top of lies, on top of lies.” He also counseled, “As many times as you can throw in Covid, do it, you know. Like, right now, that gives us so much cover for so many things.”
When Chhabria learned one of the new “wives” had not been to the apartment that was listed as her residence, he suggested her “husband” Facetime that night so he could show her the apartment, including what was in the refrigerator. He also had the couple fill out wills and power of attorney to take to the immigration interview.
One client asked if the power of attorney would be null and void after the couple divorced.
“You can make anything null and void by the simple expression of saying ‘it is now null and void,’ ” Chhabria told the woman, according to court documents.
Shaw pleaded guilty in March before U.S. District Court Judge John L. Sinatra Jr. She is to be sentenced Nov. 1. Chhabria pleaded guilty before Sinatra in September and is to be sentenced March 15. Their maximum sentence is five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and up to three years of supervised release.