COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) – Seven people – including five Grand Strand residents – pleaded guilty in federal court to marriage fraud after several Brazilian aliens paid U.S. citizens to enter into sham marriages in order to gain citizenship.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's District of South Carolina office, Sonia Santaella Viera, 55; Adalberto Viera, 60; Claudia Santaella Ferreira, 53; Sidnei Ferreira, 58, all of Myrtle Beach; Amanda Santaella Ferreira, 27, of Miami, Fla.; and Colby Musser, 31, of Murrells Inlet, all entered guilty pleas to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud.
Additionally, Nathalia Santaella Ferreira, 32, also of Miami, Fla., pleaded guilty in federal court in Florence to procuring citizenship unlawfully.
In total, there were five fraudulent marriages among these defendants, the release stated. The U.S. citizen defendants were paid more than $20,000 to enter into the sham unions.
"The purpose of all of these marriages was to obtain immigration benefits in the form of permanent residency and ultimately United States citizenship," the release stated. "In furtherance of the scheme, both the citizen spouses and Brazilian spouses submitted fraudulent forms and false affidavits to Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) in which each couple claimed under oath that they were residing together as husband and wife in legitimate marriages."
According to the release, in all but one of the fraudulent marriages, the fraud was detected before the Brazilian aliens could obtain citizenship. Only Nathalia Ferreira managed to obtain full citizenship before the fraud was detected.
The defendants will be sentenced after U.S. District Judge Bryan Harwell reviews the presentence reports. The maximum penalty the defendants can receive is five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and/or plus a special assessment of $100, the release stated.