A marriage broker pleaded guilty Thursday to running a brazen green card marriage scam, complete with age-appropriate American spouses, Photoshopped wedding albums and cheat sheets to help strangers prepare for interviews with federal agents.
Her lucrative home-spun operation offered the recently acquainted couples a bowl of different-sized wedding rings to chose from before they headed off to tie the knot. Included in her fee was a chauffeured ride to the Harris County courthouse where their nuptials would be carried out, as well as a ride to their immigration interviews.
Ashley “Duyen” Yen Nguyen, 55, a naturalized U.S. citizen in federal custody since May 2019, admitted before U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt she assisted at least 150 Vietnamese immigrants with fake marriages at a cost of up to $80,000 apiece in hopes of they’d gain permanent residency in the United States. She pleaded guilty to one count each of marriage, immigration and mail fraud and one each of money laundering and false statements in tax returns.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Laurence Goldman said in exchange for substantial cooperation with the government prior to sentencing, the Justice Department was prepared to dismiss the remaining charges in two cases against her and would not oppose her request for a downward departure at sentencing. The prosecutor said the government also would not seek denaturalization or oppose her attorney’s forthcoming request that her sentences running concurrently.
Her plea follows those of 54 others, including many of the fake brides and grooms. More than 20 co-defendants have charges pending in the case.
Hoyt asked Nguyen at the in-person hearing whether she’d heard the allegations.
“I hear everything and I agree,” she said.
“Is it true?” the judge asked.
“Yes, it’s true,” she said, repeating the word “guilty” after Hoyt asked her response to each of the five charges.
In addition to arranging other marriages, Nguyen, a trilingual grandmother with no prior criminal record, also personally petitioned officials for legal residency for her own fake spouse, co-defendant Hung Van Nguyen, defendant number 16, who promised to pay $75,000 for the honor.
Her common-law husband was charged with ferrying the couples to court for their on-the-spot unions and to their immigration interviews. Her adult daughter was charged with recruiting former classmates from her Alief high school to be fake spouses in exchange for money.
In some cases Nguyen made arrangements for the American spouses to travel to Vietnam to meet with their soon-to-be husbands or wives. Her business paid for airline tickets and lodging for the travelers and arranged for their passports.
Nguyen’s lawyer told the court Thursday she studied French during college in her native Vietnam. She made a disputed claim to officials early in the investigation that she worked in Houston as a home health aide.
Between August 2013 and April 2019, Nguyen’s wedding business brokered written agreements for dozens of marriages in which immigrants promised to pay $15,000 to $25,000 in installments. In her plea she admitted to handling these monetary exchanges through seven