A Houston woman accused in an international marriage fraud scheme pleaded guilty on two counts Thursday, October 5.
Ashley Yen Nguyen, aka "Duyen" was identified by prosecutors as the mastermind behind the scam in May 2019.
Federal prosecutors say nearly 100 people were charged in the scheme, and Nguyen's family in southwest Houston is at the heart of the indictment.
A federal grand jury indicted 96 people in the alleged scheme with operations in Houston and Vietnam. Prosecutors say Nguyen operated a Houston-based organization out of her home on High Star Drive and had associates operating throughout Texas and Vietnam.
The scam involved the creation of sham marriages in order to illegally obtain immigration status, prosecutors say.
"These arrests mark the culmination of a comprehensive year-long multi-agency investigation into one of the largest alleged marriage fraud conspiracies ever documented in the Houston area," said Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations. "By working together with our partners from various federal law enforcement agencies, we have sent a resounding message that we are united in our effort to disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations that seek to circumvent U.S. law by fraudulent means."
According to the charges, each beneficiary spouse entered in an agreement with Nguyen in which they would pay approximately $50,000 - $70,000 to obtain full lawful permanent resident status.
The spouses would allegedly also pay an additional amount for each immigration benefit they received, such as admission into the United States, conditional permanent resident status and full lawful permanent resident status.
In addition, Nguyen and others recruited other United States citizens to act as petitioners in the sham marriages, according to the indictment.
The petitioners received a portion of the proceeds received from the beneficiary spouses. Several individuals that were recruited as petitioners soon after became recruiters themselves, according to the allegations.
The criminal organization also allegedly prepared fake wedding albums which were provided to the petitioner and beneficiary spouse that included photographs to make it appear as if they had a wedding ceremony above and beyond a simple courthouse marriage.
The indictment further alleges the criminal organization provided false tax, utility, and employment information to help ensure the false immigration forms were approved.
"The government in these detention hearings always tries to make these salacious kind of statements and arguments," said Nguyen's defense attorney Mar Carter at a court appearance last year. "They were also making a point to let the judge know she is a naturalized citizen that is somehow less than someone born here."
This story originally appeared on our news partner, ABC13.