Three people with close family ties to the couple responsible for the San Bernardino terror attack were arrested on Thursday in an alleged marriage-fraud scheme involving a pair of Russian sisters.
The accused include Syed Raheel Farook. His brother and sister-in-law, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, died in a shootout with police after killing 14 people and wounding 22 on Dec. 2 last year
Also arrested in the marriage-fraud case were Syed Raheel Farook’s wife, Tatiana, and her sister, Mariya Chernykh.
Prosecutors said Mariya’s marriage to Enrique Marquez Jr, the only person charged in the shootings, was a sham designed to enable her to obtain legal status in the US after overstaying a visitor visa in 2009.
Marquez confessed to the scheme when authorities questioned him about the shootings and he acknowledged getting US$200 per month to marry Chernykh, according to his criminal complaint.
The three each entered not guilty pleas at an arraignment late on Thursday afternoon in federal court in Riverside. They were ordered to stand trial on June 21 in federal court in Los Angeles.
US federal judge David Bristow also scheduled a pretrial conference for June 6 in Los Angeles.
Bristow ordered that Chernykh, who prosecutors allege was most culpable for the sham marriage, be subject to electronic monitoring. Her boyfriend, who is the father of her child, arrived in court to tell the judge he would post her US$50,000 bond.
The mother of the Farook brothers posted bonds of US$25,000 each for her oldest son and his wife. Her son left court shortly thereafter, declining to speak to reporters.
His wife was expected to be released later in the evening.
Farook, who like the others appeared in court with shackles on his hands and feet, wept at times during his arraignment and bail hearing, including when his mother came forward to tell the judge she was posting bail.
“This is about a misrepresentation of an act of marriage. This is not about terrorism,” his attorney, Ronald Cordova, told Bristow as he argued for a reasonable bail, maintaining that Farook is not a flight risk or a danger to society.
Outside court he said Farook has cooperated with US federal authorities throughout the terrorist investigation.
“I think his thorough cooperation may have led to some of the trouble he’s going through now,” Cordova said, adding that in discussing his family situation forthrightly Farook never stopped to consider that he might be involved in any illegal activity regarding his sister-in-law’s marriage.
If convicted of conspiracy to make false statements on US federal immigration documents, the Farooks and Chernykh face up to five years in prison.
Chernykh also is charged with fraud, misuse of visas and other documents, perjury and two counts of making false statements, which could mean up to 25 years in prison.
The government might have brought the charges as a bargaining chip in order to get more information that the Farooks and Chernykh have not shared, said James Wedick, a former FBI agent who was with the agency 35 years.
“It suggests to me they weren’t talking so the government decided to ask a grand jury to return charges,” Wedick said. “If they were cooperating, they’d probably make some kind of deal.”
While the US government can benefit from continued interviews with the trio, Wedick said they also stand to benefit.
“It’s a mechanism for both the government and the defense lawyers to use to better their position — with the government trying to get information relative to terrorism and the defense looking to resolve the matter without prison time,” he said.
According to an indictment unsealed on Thursday, Syed Raheel and Tatiana Farook participated in the sham by acting as witnesses to the union of her sister and Marquez, and by creating a joint checking account along with a backdated lease to make it appear as if all four of them lived together.
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