Two of the four Myrtle Beach area residents charged with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud pleaded not guilty during an arraignment hearing Wednesday in federal court in Florence.
Eric Emond, an area real estate agent, and former real estate agent Cristina Hursh are free on $25,000 unsecured bonds following their not guilty pleas in front of Magistrate Judge Kaymani West.
Two defendants in the case – Fernando Gomes, a former Myrtle Beach area contractor, and Russia native Ekatrina Bagrova – did not appear for the arraignment. A lawyer representing Gomes told West that he was not able to contact his client by telephone. It is not clear why Bagrova did not attend the hearing. West agreed to continue the arraignment hearing to Thursday to give both defendants a chance to enter their pleas.
Emond is accused in an indictment of accepting money in exchange for marrying Bagrova in 2005. Emond then falsely represented to immigration officials that the marriage was legitimate and that he and Bagrova were living together as husband and wife, according to the indictment. Court records show the two were divorced in September 2011.
Gomes, is accused of arranging the sham marriage and paying Emond. Gomes is a Brazil citizen living in the United States.
Hursh allegedly helped recruited Emond to enter into the sham marriage.
Each of the defendants are charged with one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, which carries a maximum fine of $250,000 and a five-year prison sentence. Bagrova also is facing a felony charge of making false statements to an immigration official, which also carries a maximum fine of $250,000 and a five-year prison sentence.
Whenever an immigrant marries a U.S. citizen and then applies for citizenship, immigration officials require the couple at various times during the process to prove that the marriage is legitimate and that both parties intend to live together. Emond and Bagrova are accused of making false statements to a federal official during a Dec. 11, 2006, interview to determine whether Bagrova should be allowed to adjust her immigration status and stay in the United States. Hursh is accused of making false statements on an Aug. 19, 2008, affidavit supporting the validity of the marriage.
According to the indictment, Bagrova also made false statements in 2012 when she filed an application for naturalization and later told a federal official that she had resided with Emond at his home in the Brandy Mill subdivision in Socastee.
No trial date has been scheduled.
Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281.