Twelve people, including seven from Cherokee, have been accused of “entering into sham marriages” to avoid U.S. immigration laws, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday in federal court.
The defendants were involved in a marriage scheme in which foreign nationals paid to enter fake marriages with U.S. citizens in order to gain lawful and permanent residence in the country, according to the indictment. This occurred in Swain and Jackson counties between about June 2015 and December 2016.
Those named in the indictment are: Ruth Marie Sequoyah McCoy, 54, of Cherokee; Timothy Ray Taylor, 41, of Cherokee; Golan Perez, 38, of Cherokee; Ofir Marsiano, 41, of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; Kaila Nikelle Cucumber, 27, of Cherokee; Jessica Marie Gonzalez, 26, of Cherokee; Jordan Elizabeth Littlejohn, 28, of Cherokee; Kevin Dean Swayney, 36, of Cherokee; Ilya Dostanov, 28, of Panama City, Florida; Ievgenii Reint, 26, of St. Simons Island, Georgia; Shaul Levy, 26, of Norfolk, Virginia; and Yana Peltz, 30, of Israel.
All 12 face one count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Marsiano is also charged with four counts of marriage fraud, and McCoy and Perez are each charged with three counts of marriage fraud. Taylor, Cucumber, Gonzalez, Littlejohn, Swayney, Dostanov, Levi and Peltz each face one additional count of marriage fraud.
The charges were announced late Wednesday by Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, and John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charlotte Division.
According to Rose’s office, the indictment alleges that McCoy, Perez and Marsiano arranged the fraudlent marriages by connecting American citizens, including Cucumber, Gonzalez, Littlejohn, and Swayney, with noncitizens, including Dostanov, Reint and Peltz. The foreign nationals would pay about $1,500-$3,000 for the services.
The indictment alleges that the couples would enter into sham marriages in Sevier County, Tennessee. At that point, the non-citizens involved would apply for changes in their immigration status, in most cases, according to the indictment.