Three Jacksonville Brothers Convicted of Marriage Fraud
|U.S. Attorney’s Office February 07, 2013|
JACKSONVILLE—A federal jury today found Mowafak “Mike” Shahla (43), Antoun “Tony” Chahla (42), and Fadi Chahla (40), who are brothers, guilty of participating in a conspiracy to enter into marriages for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws, making false statements to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and unlawfully attempting to procure naturalization and citizenship. They each face a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison for the conspiracy charge and up to 10 years in federal prison for each of the other offenses. The sentencing hearings have not yet been scheduled.
They were indicted on April 26, 2011.
According to testimony and evidence presented at trial, the brothers are Syrian citizens who recruited three U.S. citizens, two sisters and their sister-in-law, to enter into fraudulent marriages. The men entered into the marriages to become legal permanent residents and then citizens of the United States. Mowafak Shahla married in 1999, Antoun Chahla in 2002, and Fadi Chahla in 2005. The three women the brothers married previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, agreed to cooperate with the investigation, and were each sentenced to two years’ probation.
Shahla, Antoun Chahla, and Fadi Chahla made cash payments to the women, including monthly payments. During part of the conspiracy, payments totaling $3,000 were made to one of the women in exchange for her agreeing to travel to Syria on two occasions. The first trip to Syria was to become engaged to Fadi Chahla, and the second trip was to enter into a fraudulent marriage with him.
Subsequently, Shahla, Antoun Chahla, and Fadi Chahla each made false statements in their applications for legal immigration status and citizenship. They also lied to immigration officers when they were interviewed about their fraudulent marriages. Prior to the interviews with the immigration officer, the couples met to discuss the details of their purported marriages and rehearse the stories they would tell the immigration officer.
Through their fraudulent actions, Shahla, Antoun Chahla, and Fadi Chahla became legal permanent residents of the United States, but the conspiracy was discovered by law enforcement authorities before their citizenship applications were processed. They are now subject to deportation based on their convictions.
This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Federal Air Marshal Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Arnold B. Corsmeier.