Myrtle Beach real estate agent to plead guilty to immigration fraud

Myrtle Beach real estate agent Eric Emond has agreed to plead guilty to his role in a sham marriage scheme that prosecutors say was an attempt to help a Russian woman illegally obtain U.S. citizenship, according to plea documents filed Monday in federal court in Florence.

Emond said in a plea agreement that he married Ekaterina Bagrova in 2005 in exchange for money and for the sole purpose of helping her obtain U.S. citizenship. Emond faces up to five-years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the felony charge of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. He also faces up to three years of probation once he is released from prison. Emond is scheduled to enter a guilty plea Tuesday in federal court. His sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.

Cristina Hursh, a former Myrtle Beach real estate agent and a co-defendant in the case, has pleaded not guilty. Her trial has not been scheduled. Bagrova and another co-defendant, Fernando Gomes, have not shown up for court hearings since the case was filed in December and it is not clear if the two still are in the United States.

Emond and Hursh remain free on $25,000 unsecured bails pending further court action.

Emond is accused in an indictment of falsely representing to immigration officials that his marriage to Bagrova was legitimate and that he and Bagrova were living together as husband and wife, according to an indictment. Court records show the two were divorced in September 2011.

Gomes, a citizen of Brazil, is accused of arranging the sham marriage and paying Emond to marry Bagrova. Hursh allegedly helped recruit Emond to enter into the sham marriage.

All of the defendants are charged with one felony count of immigration fraud. Bagrova also is facing a felony charge of making false statements to an immigration official.

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.

Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281 or via twitter at @David_Wren_