JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Three Jacksonville brothers were found guilty Thursday in federal court of 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.
Mowafek "Mike" Shahla, 43, Antoun "Tony" Chahla, 42, and Fadi Chahla, 40, citizens of Syria, were indicted on April 26, 2011, according to a release from the office of U.S. Attorney Robert E. O'Neill.
According to details presented at trial, the three brothers recruited three U.S. women, whom were all related, to enter into fraudulent marriages with the goal of the men gaining U.S. citizenship.
For their cooperation, the women received cash payments from the men. $3,000 was paid in exchange for one woman's travels to Syria in two separate trips, during which she became engaged to and fraudulently married Fadi Chahla.
The three women, whose names were not released by the Department of Justice, were each sentenced to two years probation after agreeing to cooperate with federal authorities and pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud.
Shahla, Antoun Chahla, and Fadi Chahla each made false statements on their applications for legal immigration and further lied to officers when being interviewed about the fraudulent marriages. The brothers became legal residents of the United States, but their citizenship applications were not processed by the time law enforcement uncovered the conspiracy.
The brothers face a maximum penalty for the conspiracy charge of five years in federal prison and up to ten years in federal prison for each of the other convictions. In addition, they may be subject to deportation for their crimes. Sentencing hearings have not yet been scheduled.
First Coast News