RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Federal authorities say a Granville County couple’s “sham marriage” — bought with $12,000 and a car — nearly allowed a foreign-born man to immigrate to the United States.
Three people in the scam were indicted on various charges earlier this week in Raleigh, including conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and marriage fraud, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Authorities say the case began when someone approached a couple who were panhandling for money along a road in Granville County, asking the woman if she would be willing to marry a foreign-born national for money.
The panhandling couple, Melissa Anne Godshall, 31, and Robert J. Kennerley, 46, were both U.S. citizens and were dating each other at the time, officials say.
Evan Lomtatidze, 44, a citizen of the country of Georgia, was the foreign-born person involved, the news release said.
“Godshall agreed to engage in the marriage to Lomtatidze in exchange for $12,000, housing, and a vehicle,” the news release said.
The pair got married in Granville County and was witnessed by Kennerley and another person not named in the news release.
The trio then rented a house together in Raleigh, officials say.
“The rent was paid for by Lomtatidze as part of the payment for the sham marriage,” the news release said.
The married couple submitted fraudulent applications to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services requesting Lomtatidze’s change of statues to that of a lawful permanent U.S. resident, authorities said.
In an interview in Durham with immigration authorities, the pair “attested under oath they were married in good faith,” the news release said.
As a result, Lomtatidze was granted “conditional” resident status in the United States.
The couple later submitted another application asking for all of Lomtatidze’s residency restrictions be removed, officials said.
It’s not clear what triggered the indictments or when Godshall was approached to enter the marriage.
If convicted of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, marriage fraud, visa fraud, and false statements in immigration proceedings, Lomtatidze and Godshall would each face maximum penalties of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
If convicted of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, and aiding and abetting marriage fraud, Kennerley would face maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.