STATE BAR SUSPENDS LAWYER'S LICENSE; SHE ADMITS ARRANGING MARRIAGES TO HELP IMMIGRANTS REMAIN IN U.S.

Date: 1995-08-03

Richmond Times-Dispatch
Author: Paul Bradley

A Falls Church woman who admitted arranging sham marriages to help immigrants win permanent residency in the United States has had her license to practice law suspended by the Virginia State Bar.

My-Linh Duong Soland, who specialized in immigration law, had her law license suspended after she pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Alexandria to a two-count criminal indictment, said Richard C. Voorhis, assistant counsel to the bar's disciplinary board.

Her conviction was one in a series of cases stemming from an Immigration and Naturalization Service crackdown on consultants who help legal and illegal immigrants file bogus claims seeking political asylum, work permits or residency papers.

Earlier this year, the operators of Metropolitan Immigration Services, a now-defunct Falls Church company, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and other charges in connection with what prosecutors said was the filing of 1,500 bogus claims seeking political asylum.

INS officials say the estimated 70,000 illegal immigrants living in the Washington metropolitan area have created a lucrative market for consultants offering to provide advice and prepare documents.

Many of the consultants are legitimate, but others are unscrupulous operators, INS officials said.

As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, Soland pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and witness intimidation in June. She faces up to 15 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000.

According to court papers, Soland, who had an office in the Seven Corners section of Falls Church, solicited immigrants as clients beginning in 1989. She claimed to be an immigration law specialist.

Many of her clients were seeking a green card, or permanent residency permit. In some cases, Soland offered to arrange sham marriages with U.S. citizens, court papers said.

Under INS rules, an immigrant who marries a U.S. citizen is granted permanent residency.

For a fee of $5,000, Soland agreed to find a suitable spouse, arrange the marriage and prepare and file required paperwork with the INS.

Court papers said Soland employed "marriage-arrangers" who recruited citizens of appropriate age, race and gender to marry Soland's clients in exchange for cash.

After a citizen was matched with an immigrant, Soland would direct the couple to get married at the Arlington County Courthouse, court papers said.

The citizen participating in the scam would receive a cash payment of several hundred dollars after the wedding.

After the ceremony, the couple would visit a restaurant for photographs, which later would be given to the INS as proof of a bona fide marriage, court papers said.

Soland then instructed the couple to create a bogus paper trail which would falsely show the couple were living together, court papers said.

For example, the couple would change addresses or add second names to such things as bank accounts, utility bills and driver's licenses. Those documents also would be submitted to the INS.

Prior to an interview with INS examiners, Soland would coach the couple on what questions to expect and how to answer them, court papers said.

The coaching sessions enabled the couple to fabricate a consistent story concerning such things as how they met, how many children are in their families, respective occupations and hobbies, and other personal details married couples would know about each other.

Soland also accompanied couples to their INS interviews, according to court papers, and encouraged them to perjure themselves during the sessions.

Soland also pleaded guilty to attempting to hire a man to assault an immigrant who was cooperating with law enforcement authorities, court papers said.

Several immigrants involved in the scam were named as unindicted co-conspirators and cooperated in the investigation, authorities said. They will be subject to INS hearings and could be deported.

In Virginia, an attorney's law license is suspended on an interim basis once he or she is convicted of a felony, Voorhis said.

A hearing on whether Soland's license should be further suspended or revoked is set for Aug. 25 in front of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board.

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