Newark women charged in sham-marriage immigration scheme

NEWARK, NJ — Two Newark sisters were indicted Dec. 17 in connection with a scheme to arrange sham marriages between U.S. citizens and noncitizens seeking to stay in the United States unlawfully, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced Dec. 17.

Andrea Torres, 55, and Regina Johnson, 57, were both charged by indictment with one count of conspiracy to encourage and induce noncitizens to remain in the United States illegally. They had been previously charged by complaint with the same offense. 

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, from September 2016 to July 2019, Torres and Johnson devised and participated in a fraudulent scheme to arrange and facilitate sham marriages for noncitizens who wished to remain in the United States despite lacking legal status or the proper documentation. They allegedly recruited U.S. citizens as potential spouses and paid them a fee in exchange for those U.S. citizens entering into sham marriages with Torres’ and Johnson’s noncitizen clients. Torres and Johnson reportedly arranged for the “couples” to obtain fraudulent marriage licenses and even arranged and charged their clients for wedding ceremonies and afterparties that were staged to make the sham marriages appear legitimate. It is alleged that Torres and Johnson advised their clients on ways to make their marriage appear legitimate on paper, including the opening of joint bank accounts and frequent meetings with their U.S. spouses — during which they were advised to take pictures in a variety of locations and in different clothing — to document the relationship and give the appearance of cohabitation, even though none of the clients ever resided or intended to reside with their U.S. spouses. Torres and Johnson then reportedly helped their noncitizen clients fill out immigration forms to obtain permanent residency on the basis of materially false information.

The charge in the indictment carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the pecuniary gain or loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greatest.

The charge and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty.