Posted: 5:15 PM- A West Valley City company that prepared immigration petitions for U.S. citizens and their Vietnamese sweethearts had some unusual requirements for its clients.
In addition to forking over $30,000, the couples were obliged to write at least two letters a month to each other and send post cards on U.S. and Vietnamese holidays, according to federal prosecutors.
“Often mail each other on a weekly basis. Write at length and express love with each other,” Multi-Services Office allegedly said in an addendum to its contract.
The clients – who were petitioning immigration authorities to allow the Vietnamese spouses or fiances to live in the United States – also were instructed to talk on the phone several times a month, send gifts engraved with both parties’ names and exchange photographs.
An indictment issued last year against two dozen defendants claimed these “relationships” were all a scam designed to bring undocumented foreign nationals into the country. Authorities allege that Vietnamese citizens were paying $30,000 to marry Utahns in the hope of being allowed to live in the United States.
On Thursday, a man described by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as one of the ringleaders was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Henry Ngoc Nguyen, operator of Multi-Services Office, which also has an office in Ho Chi Minh City, earlier had pleaded guilty to six counts of aiding and abetting the illegal entry of people into the United States. The 46-year-old, a naturalized U.S. citizen, apologized for his actions.
“I have shamed my family name,” Nguyen told U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell. “I will do the right things in my life from now on.”
Prosecutors say recruiters got citizens to participate in the scam and to travel to Vietnam to bolster the claim that the marriages were legitimate. They say document preparers, such as Nguyen, filled out the immigration paperwork and submitted love letters and photographs as supporting documents.
About 20 of the defendants have been sentenced, all but two of them to probation or home confinement. Nguyen has received the harshest punishment so far and another defendant received a six-month term.
Defense attorney Richard Mauro said Nguyen, who fled Vietnam on a small fishing boat in 1979, felt he was giving others the opportunity for a better life. He said there is no evidence that his client’s activities undermined national security.
However, Dustin Pead, an assistant U.S. attorney, said Nguyen’s actions were not altruistic, but an abuse of the immigration process.
More than five dozen U.S. citizens were charged separately this fall with misdemeanors for allegedly lying when they said an immigrant was their bona fide spouse or fiance. They face up to six months in jail if convicted.
pmanson@sltrib.com