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LA Marriage Fraud Scheme Facilitated Over 300 Sham Marriages for a Green Card

Engilbert Ulan who was found guilty of conducting fake marriages now faces a potential 5-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
Cover Image Source: Photo by Emma Bauso | Pexels
Cover Image Source: Photo by Emma Bauso | Pexels

In the summer of 2021, Engilbert Ulan assisted a newlywed couple in Los Angeles as they prepared for a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services interview. The husband, a 53-year-old foreign national seeking a green card, needed to successfully navigate the interview to validate the legitimacy of his marriage to a U.S. citizen. Ulan guided them through a list of 211 potential questions provided by his boss, Marcialito "Mars" Biol Benitez, in anticipation of the upcoming interview.

Cover Image Source: Sargis Zubov/Getty Images
Sargis Zubov/Getty Images

42-year-old Engilbert Ulan was found guilty by a federal jury in Boston of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and immigration document fraud, per DOJ. He now faces a potential five-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine. Marcialito "Mars" Biol Benitez, 49, the alleged mastermind of the marriage fraud enterprise, pleaded guilty in September 2023 and testified against Ulan. Benitez may receive a shorter sentence than Ulan. Ulan's attorney, Joseph Simons portrayed his client as a hardworking individual seeking a better life in the United States, suggesting Ulan played a minor role, unknowingly entangled in Benitez's fraudulent immigration scheme.

Ulan quizzed the couple with questions like "What is the color of your spouse’s toothbrush?" and "Who sleeps on the right side of the bed?" However, federal prosecutors allege that Ulan was well aware of the fraudulent nature of the couple's marriage. They asserted that Ulan had met with numerous clients of Marcialito "Mars" Biol Benitez, participants in an extensive marriage fraud scheme orchestrated by brokers. The clients, often Brazilian nationals, reportedly paid substantial sums, up to $30,000 in cash, for Benitez's services.

Image Source: Photo by Zachary Caraway | Pexels
Court | Photo by Zachary Caraway | Pexels

Engilbert Ulan became the 10th person convicted in the case, with nine co-defendants pleading guilty. His sentencing is set for March 2024. Jodi Cohen, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston division, emphasized that Ulan's conviction should serve as a warning against marriage fraud. Cohen stated that Ulan and his co-conspirators undermined immigration laws designed to safeguard public safety and disadvantaged those pursuing lawful citizenship, tarnishing the honor and privilege of becoming an American citizen.

Between October 2016 and March 2022, Marcialito "Mars" Biol Benitez, operating under the business name Career Ad Management LLC at 3325 Wilshire Blvd., orchestrated a marriage fraud scheme, arranging over 300 "sham marriages" to facilitate clients in obtaining green cards. Benitez, a Filipino national residing in Los Angeles, utilized a network of brokers to recruit U.S. citizens as spouses for foreign nationals seeking permanent residence status. Ulan, along with others, played a role in identifying foreign nationals through referrals and introductions at introductory meetings, explaining the fraudulent scheme to clients. Benitez provided payment schedules outlining upfront and monthly costs for ceremonies and immigration document filings, ensuring cooperation until clients secured green cards.

Image Source: Photo by Deesha Chandra | Pexels
Wedding ring exchange | Pexels/Photo by Deesha Chandra 

As part of the marriage fraud scheme orchestrated by Marcialito "Mars" Biol Benitez, fake spouses were taken to clothing stores to choose outfits for weddings, with Ulan assisting in booking marriage ceremony appointments. Ceremonies were held at chapels without proper checks on legitimacy. Ulan frequently used a chapel with an associate who was a part-time employee, and decorations were set up for the ceremonies, documented through photographs. Ulan aided in preparing fraudulent petitions and supporting documentation, submitting paperwork for processing. Clients were instructed to engage in various activities with their fake spouses, such as opening joint bank accounts, registering vehicles, purchasing life insurance policies, and filing taxes jointly. Clients outside California used Ulan's address for residency proof, with one paying $100 monthly for the service. According to court records, Ulan instructed the client that everything should be addressed to his address.

Ulan coached fake couples to display good chemistry during immigration interviews by instructing them to provide consistent answers. Ulan conducted practice interviews to conceal the fraudulent nature of marriages, incorporating trick questions like "How much did you pay for your spouse in this marriage?" U.S. citizens posing as spouses received smaller sums compared to Benitez, Ulan, and co-conspirators. In one case, Benitez received $15,000 and paid the bride $1,700, who later admitted the marriage was fraudulent. When Benitez discovered the admission, he ordered payment withholding, stating, "Don’t give any single cent."

Image Source: Photo by EKATERINA  BOLOVTSOVA | Pexels
Image Source: Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA | Pexels

The woman involved in the fraudulent marriage apologized, revealing she and her son were homeless and living in a motel. When confronted, Benitez, fearing damage to his business, called her actions destructive. FBI agents arrested Benitez in April 2022, finding him hiding in the attic. His agency is estimated to have generated $8 million. Benitez obtained U.S. citizenship through marriage, and he alleged Ulan's marriage was also a sham. The Justice Department is investigating whether clients may lose their permanent resident status. Benitez's sentencing is scheduled for January 2024, with a recommended sentence of three and a half years.