Sham marriages

Woman's marriage scam nets probation

A New Bedford woman was sentenced yesterday to two years of probation, including four months under home confinement, for entering into three sham marriages between 2004 and 2006 to help three Brazilian nationals attain permanent legal residence in the United States.

Erin Elizabeth Whittaker, 28, a citizen of the United States, will also have to perform 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty in US District Court in Boston yesterday to charges of marriage fraud and conspiracy to commit marriage fraud.

Whittaker apologized to the court. Her lawyer, James P. Duggan of Boston, said later that she was regretful and that the court recognized her remorse.

"She recognized that she had made a mistake,'' Duggan said. "She was very grateful for the outcome.''

According to court records, Whittaker agreed to marry the three men, who had entered the country on six-month visas between 1997 and 2001, to help them achieve permanent residency.

Legal immigrants seeking permanent US residency can bypass certain visa requirements by marrying a US citizen, though the couple has to file paperwork vowing that the marriages are legitimate.

Whittaker married the first man in 2004 in East Providence, R.I.; the second man in Taunton the next year; and the third man in New Bedford in 2006.

According to court records, she and the groom in each case stated on immigration forms that they would live together.

Prosecutors told the court that Whittaker received a small amount of money for each marriage, but they did not say how much.

Whittaker could have faced up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for the sham marriages.

Immigrants who enter into sham marriages can be deported and permanently barred from reentering the country. Prosecutors did not indicate the current residency status of the men.

(Published by The Boston Globe - January 26, 2012)

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