Chicago immigration attorneys sentenced to federal prison for their role in marriage scam

A North Chicago immigration attorney and his twin brother were sentenced to 24 and 12 months, respectively, in federal prison on Wednesday for their roles aiding a marriage fraud ring.

Manny Aguja, who was expelled from practicing immigration law last month, and his twin brother Marc Aguja, both 55, were also ordered to each pay a $10,000 fine.

The brothers, along with another employee who worked at the law firm, pleaded guilty last April to conspiracy charges related to marriage fraud.

The Aguja brothers were indicted in November 2009, along with five Cook County employees who worked in the traffic division of the court system, following an undercover investigation by the U.S. Immigration Custom and Enforcement agency.

The indictment alleges that Maria F. Cruz, an employee in the Cook County courts system, recruited U.S. citizens to engage in fraudulent marriages with undocumented immigrants to help them obtain legal residency.

U.S. citizens would get paid $3,000 after the marriage, under the arrangements. The citizens were also promised $300 to $350 every month of marriage until the undocumented immigrant obtained citizenship, the indictment said.

The ring was discovered after Cruz attempted to arrange a fraudulent marriage between a U.S. citizen and an undercover agent, according to the indictment.

Between July 2003 and October 2009, Cruz arranged 15 marriages. She also attempted to arrange two additional marriages with undercover federal agents.

Manny Aguja is listed as the attorney handling two deportation cases in a local division of the federal court system between March 2010 and June 2011, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Crystal Williams, executive director for  the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said she is concerned about the immigrants who were not involved in the fraudulent marriages, but were being represented by Aguja.

“Their cases are always automatically suspect,” Williams said of Aguja’s clients who were not involved in the scam. “They were all victims and not participants.”

Williams said her organization has been educating members about immigration fraud and the organization has launched a campaign to stop “notario” fraud–people who pretend to be immigration lawyers.

She says immigrants should be aware of who they hire to handle their cases to avoid fraud.

“Check for the attorney’s reputation,” she said. “And if the attorney asks you to lie, that should be your red flag.”

Read through the full indictment here:

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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