Four Kenyan nationals residing in Houston have been sentenced for conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, marriage fraud and visa fraud, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Herman Ogoti, 53, Alfonso Ongaga, 36, Andrew Mokoro, 36, and Rebmann Ongaga, 33, were all convicted following a seven-day trial on Nov. 14, 2013. Ogoti and Alfonso Ongaga were also convicted of unlawful procurement of naturalization.
Today, U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon sentenced Alfonso Ongaga and Andrew Mokoro to terms of 16 months in federal prison, while Ogoti and Rebmann Ongaga each received six-month terms. Judge Harmon also signed an order revoking the naturalization of Ogoti and Alfonso Ongaga, thereby stripping them of their fraudulently acquired U.S. citizenship.
A fifth defendant charged in the case, Andrew Mitema, 35, of Houston, pleaded guilty in advance of trial to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and tampering with a witness. He is set for sentencing on April 23, 2014.
The defendants conspired together to recruit and pay U.S citizens to enter into fraudulent marriages for the purpose of receiving lawful permanent resident status or citizenship. Before entering the U.S., each of the defendants applied for student visas. All but Rebmann Ongaga were granted those visas and used them to enter the country. After his student visa was denied, Rebmann Ongaga, working with his other co-conspirators, flew a recruited U.S. citizen to Kenya for the sole purpose of conducting a sham wedding ceremony. After two days in Kenya, the woman returned to the United States. Several months later, Rebmann Ongaga entered the U.S. with a spouse visa.
After entering the country, the remaining defendants married recruited American citizens, most of whom were related to each other and to the citizen who traveled to Kenya. Each recruited woman was to be paid $5,000 for her participation in the sham marriages.
The scheme was uncovered Nov. 10, 2009, after two additional recruited women were detained at the U.S. Passport Office in Houston, suspected of committing passport fraud. They had told officials that they were traveling to Africa “to see the animals,” although they did not know where. Upon further questioning, they admitted they were both recruited to travel to Africa to marry the recruiters’ family members. At trial, surveillance video showed the two women entering into the passport office with a male, later identified as Mokoro.
The case was investigated by the Department of State – Diplomatic Security Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Enforcement and Removal Operations and Department of Homeland Security – Fraud Detection and National Security. Assistant United States Attorneys Kebharu H. Smith and Suzanne Elmilady and Department of Justice Trial Attorney Ashlee McFarlane prosecuted the case. –