Federal officials say 40 people have been charged in central Iowa in a sort of reverse case of the “Runaway Bride.” Matt Whitaker, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, says the three-year investigation called “Operation Wedding Band” found 20 cases of sham marriages set up to help foreigners stay in the U.S. Federal officials were tipped off by an increase in nuptials. He says they noticed a dramatic increase in applications for citizenship through marriage by people from the same river valley in Kenya. He says most of the people live in and around Des Moines. Federal Agent Estela Biesemeyer says the Kenyan half of the illegal marriages all had a common link. She says a majority of the people came from the Rift Valley of Kenya. Some of them are related, and many of them know each other and had a lot of connections to one another. Biesemeyer says the American citizens agreed to the sham marriages for one reason.She says, “For money. They’re offered money up front to enter into the marriage, and in this particular case we found out that they were being paid a monthly stipend until such time as they (the Kenyans) gain their benefit. Their green card in this case.” Bisesemeyer says the Kenyans found the Iowans through an agent who helped them. She says they’ve been investigating some marriage fraud arrangers, and she says the word spread very quickly by word-of-mouth about people willing to enter into the marriages. Whitaker says the courts will now decide the fate of the Kenyans. He says, “We expect based upon the evidence and the cases we’ve put together, that these are strong cases, and that we should, should expect these to get all the way to uh, to a positive result for the government. Which ultimately for the Kenyan nationals will mean deportation and exclusion from ever coming back to the country.” Whitaker says the U.S. citizens involved face felony charges.
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