Le Guo Wu, 31, of Philadelphia pleaded guilty to recruiting Minnesotans to marry Chinese nationals. Investigators broke the case by monitoring his cell phone and e-mail.
A 31-year-old Philadelphia man admitted Wednesday that he helped recruit dozens of people in Minnesota and other states to enter fraudulent marriages with Chinese nationals.
Le Guo Wu pleaded guilty in federal court in St. Paul to one count of conspiracy in what immigration officials say is an ongoing investigation of an international marriage fraud ring.
Court records say since at least 2004, Wu has offered Americans between $13,000 and $25,000 to marry Chinese citizens so they could enter the United States and obtain residency papers.
So far, authorities have identified more than 70 suspect immigration petitions tied to the marriage fraud ring, according to records filed in the case.
Wu admitted to recruiting participants for the marriage fraud ring from "multiple states." His plea agreement says he tried to recruit at least three Minnesota women.
"We will not allow the exploitation of America's immigration system for profit," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigations office in Bloomington.
Arnold declined to comment on the Wu case because it is still an active investigation. But he said marriage fraud rings are not uncommon.
Chinese pay smugglers tens of thousands of dollars in such schemes, Arnold said. Some scrape the fee together from family members. Others subject themselves to working off their fees in the United States.
Investigation began in 2006
In April 2006, the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, State and other federal agencies announced the creation of joint task forces in 10 major U.S. cities -- including Bloomington -- to combat what they called the growing problems of false identification documents and immigration fraud. "One of lessons from 9/11 is that false identities and fraudulent documents present serious risks to national security," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said at the time.
The Wu investigation began in May 2006 after an informant told immigration officials that he had been recruited into the ring by Wu and 23-year-old Houa Vang of St. Paul.
One of the ring's recruits agreed last year to cooperate with authorities and met with Wu in Philadelphia to arrange a trip to China, according to a sworn statement filed in case by Joshua Brenner, an ICE special agent.
The witness, who is not identified in public court records, said Wu offered to pay him as much as $25,000 if a sham marriage resulted in "permanent resident" status for a Chinese client. Wu also offered to pay $3,000 for referring others into the scheme, Brenner said.
Wu told the witness in a recorded phone call that he had been paying Vang $500 a month to help him. Vang has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial March 3.
Tracked via cell phone
Investigators obtained a court order compelling T-Mobile to track Wu's movements by secretly activating a geo-positioning function in his cell phone to track the phone's location.
Investigators also scoured Wu's Internet accounts at Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail for evidence. Court records indicate that Wu used his Gmail account to arrange a party for some participants in the scheme.
Wu's plea agreement calls for a prison term of 27 to 33 months, a possible fine of $6,000 to $60,000, and supervised release for two to three years. His sentence will be determined at an unspecified date by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson.
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493