FALLS CHURCH LAWYER GUILTY OF ARRANGING SHAM MARRIAGES

Date: 1995-06-14

Washington Post
Author: Charles W. Hall; Washington Post Staff Writer

A Falls Church immigration lawyer admitted yesterday that she bribed more than 30 area residents to enter into sham marriages to give their foreign-born partners legal resident status.

The lawyer, My-Linh Duong Soland, 54, told a federal judge in Alexandria that she coached the marriage partners on how to offer false details of married life to fool immigration agents, much as a couple did in the movie "Green Card."

Helen F. Fahey, U.S. attorney for Virginia's Eastern District, announced Soland's guilty plea to two felony charges. Federal prosecutors said it was one of the largest immigration frauds to be conducted by a practicing lawyer in recent years; Fahey said more arrests are expected.

Soland, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice, faces up to 15 years in prison and a fine of $500,000. Sentencing is set for Sept. 8.

Soland, a native of Vietnam, did not return a telephone call to her office in the Seven Corners area.

According to papers submitted to U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr., Soland charged immigrants $5,000 for each marriage, paying U.S.-born citizens several hundred dollars after the wedding ceremonies and then making monthly follow-up payments of $20 to $200 until final immigration status was obtained for the partners.

Attempts to deceive federal agents at times went to extreme lengths, according to a court document summarizing the evidence against Soland.

Soland used "marriage arrangers" who recruited U.S.-born citizens to go to the altar. According to sources familiar with the case, most of the immigrants were from the African nation of Sierra Leone, and many of the U.S.-born spouses were low-income residents who had pressing financial problems.

But the key to making the scheme work was fooling federal immigration investigators who performed follow-up interviews with the couples. Under federal law, immigrants seeking permanent resident status must remain married for two years and establish in an interview that their marriages are legitimate. According to court records, Soland instructed the spouses to create documents, such as joint bank records, leases, utility bills and driver's licenses, to indicate a common address, even though the couples lived apart.

Soland also held practice sessions with her clients, at which she "would advise them of the questions they would likely be asked by the {Immigration and Naturalization Service} examiners and tell them the answers they should provide," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark J. Hulkower, who prosecuted the case.

But at times, even those precautions were not enough.

In one case, according to court records, a U.S.-born woman died before her foreign-born husband received his green card.

"Soland instructed her client to attend the funeral and take photographs as proof for the INS that it was a bona fide marriage," according to court records. Soland later paid another U.S. citizen to marry the same man, the records said.

Prosecutors said Soland advised another foreign-born couple to get divorced so she could arrange separate sham marriages for both of them. The couple continued to live together during the process.

As investigators built a case against her, Soland tried in recent weeks to bribe several potential witnesses into silence, according to records. INS agents secretly recorded several of those attempts.

In one case, the documents said, she tried to hire a private detective to beat up a foreign-born client to prevent her from testifying. The assault did not take place

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