Seven people have been charged to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, according to a release from United States Attorney Beth Drake.
Sonia Santaella Vieira, 55, Adalberto Viera, 60, Claudia Santaella Ferreira, 53, Sidnei Ferreria, 58, all of Myrtle Beach, Colby Musser, 31, of Murrells Inlet, and Amanda Santaella Ferreira, 27, of Miami, Fla., and Nathalia Ferreira all pleaded guilty in federal court in Florence Friday afternoon.
Only Nathalia Ferreira managed to obtain full citizenship before fraud was detected. All other couples were caught before the Brazilian aliens could obtain citizenship.
Officials said that she will be convicted of procuring citizenship unlawfully and will result in a mandatory revocation of her citizenship.
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Evidence presented at the guilty plea hearing “established that the defendants were involved in a marriage fraud conspiracy involving a number of Brazilian aliens who paying United States citizens to enter into fraudulent marriages with them in order to gain United States citizenship,” according to the release.
In total, five fraudulent marriages were found among the defendants.
The American citizen defendants were paid more than $20,000 to enter into the marriages, according to the release. Officials said that the purpose of the marriages was to receive permanent residency and eventually citizenship in the United States.
Both citizen spouses and Brazilian spouses submitted false affidavits to Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) as well as fraudulent forms where each couple claimed that they resided together as husband and wife in legitimate marriages, according to the release.
Again under oath, all couples repeated these false representations during live interviews with CIS officials.
United States District Judge Bryan Harwell of Florence has accepted the pleas and will impose a sentence after pre-sentence reports have been reviewed.
The maximum penalty defendants can receive is a fine of $250,000 and/or plus a special assessment of $100 and imprisonment for five years, according to the release.