Seven people pleaded guilty to marriage fraud in federal court in Florence Friday.
Myrtle Beach residents Sonia Santaella Vieira, 55, Adalberto Viera, 60, Claudia Santaella Ferreira, 53, and Sidnei Ferreira, 58 and Colby Musser, 31, of Murrells Inlet pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney District of South Carolina’s office.
Amanda Santella Ferreira, 27, of Miami pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Nathalia Santaella Ferreira, 32, also of Miami, pleaded guilty to procuring Citizenship unlawfully.
U.S. District Judge Bryan Harwell accepted the pleas and will impose sentences later. The maximum penalty for each of the convictions is 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
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Prosecutors said the defendants were involved in a marriage fraud conspiracy involving Brazilians who were paying U.S. citizens to enter into marriages to help them gain citizenship.
The defendants were paid more than $20,000 to enter into a total of five fraudulent marriages to obtain immigration benefits, permanent residency and U.S. citizenship, the release stated. The scheme included the citizen spouses and Brazilian spouses submitting fraudulent forms and false affidavits to Citizenship and Immigration Services, where they claimed they were living as husband and wife in legitimate marriages.
The couples also reportedly lied to CIS officials during live interviews.
Only Nathalia Ferreira was able to obtain full citizenship before the fraud was detected, though it will now be revoked, according to officials.