In this country, citizens are allowed to marry whomever they please, as long as it’s not a European immigrant who is paying you for the marriage. In Chicago, 18 people have been charged with this very act. Nine Americans were paid by nine Eastern European immigrants to marry them so they could get legal residency. The Americans were to be paid $5,000. They received $1,000 on the day of the marriage, $1,000 three months later, $2,000 after an interview with immigration officials, and $1,000 after the immigrant received permanent residency status. The defendants attended each other’s weddings and posed in photos to make the weddings appear legitimate.

The 18 people involved were all charged with conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. Jeremey Starnes, a 31-year-old from Chicago, is accused of leading the scheme. He, along with four of the other people involved all pled not guilty to the charges on Monday. Among them was Starnes’, 25-year-old wife, Svetlana Kostigova of Schaumburg who entered into their own illegal marriage in 2002. Sharnes was said to give advice to others participating in the scam. Arrest warrants have been issued for the other defendants. If convicted, they could face up to five years in prison.

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