GRAND FORKS — A man is being held in Grand Forks County Jail after being apprehended on charges related to an alleged Houston-based marriage fraud conspiracy designed to circumvent United States immigration laws.
According to an indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Bao Hoang Nguyen had a role in a "large-scale" scheme to enter the country through sham marriages.
Federal officials allege the operation, which operated throughout Texas and Vietnam, allowed clients to pay $50,000 to $70,000 to gain full permanent resident status in the U.S. by arranging fraudulent marriages.
Officials also allege the organization helped U.S. citizens travel to Vietnam, under the pretenses of going to meet the citizens' "fiance," who was actually a non-citizen paying money to gain entry to the U.S.
The organization went as far as to prepare fake wedding albums to create the appearance the marriages were not simply held in a courthouse, the indictment further alleges.
U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement announced the 206 count indictment Monday, May 13, which names nearly 100 people allegedly involved in the scheme. As of Tuesday, 50 people were in custody. ICE described it as a "massive" marriage fraud conspiracy.
Nguyen is charged with marriage fraud, conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and mail fraud for entering what federal authorities say was a sham marriage with Janie Gonzales, who faces the same charges.
Federal authorities allege Nguyen and Janie Gonzales submitted documents with forged signatures, fictitious addresses, cohabitants and employment verification letters, according to the indictment.
Nguyen was apprehended by U.S. Marshals and is currently being held in the Grand Forks County Jail.
It is not clear where Nguyen lives, and the U.S. Marshal's Service offices in Fargo and Grand Forks were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Harris County, Texas, marriage records show Gonzales and Nguyen were married in June 2014, and show both lived at Houston addresses. It is unclear if these addresses are current or accurate.
Nguyen was scheduled to make his initial appearance before a federal magistrate judge Tuesday, May 14, but the hearing was canceled because he needed an interpreter, according to an official at the federal courthouse in Fargo.