Reporting Maria Medina
SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — They entered the institute of marriage, and now they’re entering the US Justice System.
Fourteen people are now indicted in what the US Attorney’s Office says is a marriage fraud scheme. Prosecutors say the suspects went to make sham marriages look like the real thing.
It all started in a Sacramento bar and, the feds say, it lasted for nearly a decade.
“In the case I’m announcing today, the lead defendant and several accomplices are alleged to have made a business out of marriage fraud,” said a US Attorney’s Office representative.
The accused ringleader is Sergey Potepalov, of Citrus Heights.
“As far as the way I know him, I can’t believe it,” said a neighbor.
Neighbors are shocked and his family is mostly staying quiet.
When we went to Sergey’s home, we were told by a man there that Sergey wasn’t in jail and said Sergey is a good man.
Sergey’s son and father left not knowing what the future will bring, but prosecutors say it’s his past that’s now caught up to him.
“Foreign clients paid Mr. Potepalov thousands of dollars for his assistance in concocting the phony marriages,” said an official we spoke wit.
They were marriages of convenience. The US citizen got $5,000 and the immigrant got a shortcut to citizenship.
“They’re saying that they love each other, but they haven’t necessarily been together longer than their wedding day,” he said.
Prosecutors say the couples worked hard to cover up their crimes. They took wedding day photos, signed apartment leases in both their names, and concocted lies for interviews with immigration officers.