Fort Bragg soldiers and Central Asian immigrants staged courtships and marriages to reap the benefits America gives those who get hitched, according to federal investigators.
The scheme has landed the several young soldiers and three foreign brides in the hot seat. This week, two of the soldiers and one of the brides pleaded guilty to marriage fraud in federal court; the crime could land each in prison for as long as five years.
The arrangements were tempting. By marrying an American, the women, immigrants of Russia and nearby countries, could stay in the United States indefinitely. The soldiers, young single recruits, would rack up extra pay afforded to married military members so they might live off base.
All told, the three fake marriages cost the military $200,000 in benefits over more than three years, said John Bowler, assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Two of the solders, Wesley Farris and Stephen Schneider, married the immigrants as teens. Now both 23, the men stood tall in civilian khaki dress slacks and dress shirts Tuesday, capping each of their answers to a federal judge with "sir." Both declined to comment after the hearing.
The marriage scam was hatched in 2005 by Pavel and Alexander Manin, two Russian brothers who had enlisted in the U.S. Army, Bowler said in court. Pavel Manin was stationed at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville and befriended Farris. Manin made an enticing proposal: marry a woman in need of immigration security and earn extra military housing pay. Farris, according to Bowler, shared his technique with roommate Jason Hawk and friend Stephen Schneider. All three secured foreign brides.
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