JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A federal judge convicted three Jacksonville brothers of marriage fraud on Thursday for participating in a conspiracy to enter into marriages for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws.
Officials say the three brothers, 43-year-old Mowafak "Mike" Shahla, 42-year-old Antoun "Tony" Chahla and 40-year-old Fadi Chahla, were also found guilty of making false statements to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and unlawfully attempting to obtain naturalization and citizenship.
According to testimony and evidence presented at the trial, the brothers are Syrian citizens who recruited three U.S. citizens, two sisters and their sister-in-law, to enter into fraudulent marriages. The men entered into the marriages to become legal permanent residents and then citizens of the United States.
Officials said Mowafak Shahla married in 1999, Antoun Chahla in 2002, and Fadi Chahla in 2005. The three women the brothers married previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, agreed to cooperate with the investigation, and were each sentenced to two years' probation.
Evidence shows Shahla, Antoun Chahla, and Fadi Chahla made cash payments to the women, including monthly payments. During part of the conspiracy, officials said payments totaling $3,000 were made to one of the women in exchange for her agreeing to travel to Syria on two occasions.
Through their fraudulent actions, Shahla, Antoun Chahla, and Fadi Chahla became legal permanent residents of the United States, but the conspiracy was discovered by law enforcement authorities before their citizenship applications were processed. Officials said they are now subject to deportation based on their convictions.
Each of the brothers face a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison for the conspiracy charge and up to 10 years in federal prison for each of their other offenses. Attorneys said their sentencing hearings have not yet been scheduled. They were indicted on April 26, 2011.
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