December 2, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

Marriage fraud scheme ringleader sentenced to 10 years in prison

Tears rolled down Ashley Yen Nguyen’s cheeks as U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt sentenced her on Thursday to 10 years in prison for being the ringleader of an elaborate marriage fraud scheme that amassed more than $15 million in profits.

“Today I feel sick but so grateful that the judge give me a chance to express my deepest regret,” Nguyen said during her sentencing. “I will never forgive myself for all the damage caused by me. I accept full responsibility. I would like to apologize to all my family and friends for everything I put them through.”

Nguyen, AKA Duyen, pleaded guilty in November 2020 to arranging at least 40 sham marriages over a four-year period to help immigrants fraudulently gain legal permanent resident status in the United States. The 58-year-old charged Vietnamese nationals $50,000 to $70,000 to marry a wife or husband in the U.S.

A total of 50 people, including Nguyen, her daughter and her common-law husband were taken into custody in May 2019 after the return of a 206-count indictment. The charges included 47 counts of marriage fraud, 50 counts of mail fraud, 51 counts of immigration fraud and 51 counts of false statements under oath 

“My understanding from agents is this is the biggest marriage fraud indictment in Houston, if not the nation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Goldman said. 

Fake wedding albums, facts

To make the over 500 unions appear legitimate, Nguyen and her co-defendants created fake wedding albums to make it look like the couples were married during an actual ceremony at a courthouse, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Fabricated facts were also given to the fake spouses so they could recite them to immigration officials.

Nguyen claimed she was an attorney who had contacts with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to boost her believability to clients. 

More than a dozen U.S. citizens, who acted as recruiters for Nguyen, received monthly installments of $200, while Americans who participated in the scheme as spouses were promised to be paid out between $15,000 and $20,000 through installments. Some of the spouses never came close to pocketing their full payments, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

“For more than four years, this individual raked in millions by operating one of the largest marriage fraud conspiracies in U.S. history,” said Mark Dawson with Homeland Security Investigations in Houston. “The sham marriages and improper immigration benefits that were fraudulently secured under this criminal conspiracy wasted countless federal resources, delayed an unknown number of legitimate marriages between foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, and threatened national security by enabling individuals to remain in the country through deceit.”

A ‘low-income’ front

The marriage fraud scheme was operated out of Nguyen’s “low-income” home in southwest Houston, but she had associates operating across Texas and Vietnam, Goldman said. 

Nguyen’s attorney, Marc Carter, refuted Homeland Security’s claim that the scheme made millions of dollars.

Goldman said Nguyen’s assets included at least six houses, a Mercedes, a Mustang, a pickup truck and several “very nice expensive firearms.” Nguyen living in a low-income neighborhood was a front, and over half of the U.S. citizens she got to participate in the scheme had extensive criminal records and were drug addicts, he said.

“She presents herself as a poor person living over near Bellaire, but she has tons and tons of millions of dollars in reality,” Goldman said.

Plead for mercy

Carter pleaded with Hoyt to have compassion and consider mercy for Nguyen who at age 10 was put into a re-education prison camp in south Vietnam in 1975. 

“Because of her father’s employment and because she spoke English, her family was basically perceived as enemies of the communist government,” he said. “She was just 10 years old, but she saw that her family was able to survive.” 

Nguyen began crying when Carter mentioned her son who suffers from mental illness and is “basically catatonic.” He said the son is staying with Nguyen’s sister in Canada, which is a country that doesn’t allow foreigners to enter if they have a felony conviction.

“Please let me rebuild my life at 58 years old and I promise I’ll never ever do anything illegal again,” a teary-eyed Nguyen said. “I will appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. And I ask you to please let me talk to my daughter.”

Goldman told Hoyt that Nguyen’s daughter, who was sentenced to a year and one day, wants nothing to do with her after taking a plea agreement for her part in the scheme. Nguyen also could have paid to relocate her son to the U.S. because of her having millions of dollars spread throughout multiple bank accounts, he said.

“Miss Nguyen you made decisions and you made choices,” Hoyt said before handing down the sentence. “When you make choices you live with not just the choice but the consequences of those choices.”

Additional to Nguyen’s sentence, she will have to pay $334,605 in fines, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

Most of the Vietnamese nationals and U.S. citizens involved in the scheme got time served, which was a few months, according to Goldman. Those who had prior convictions had higher sentences, he said. 

Nguyen will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the future.