Fake wedding gang: 'Til jail do us part
The honeymoon is over for a gang behind sham marriages across the Black Country involving fake love letters, staged wedding pictures and a crooked worker in a solicitor's office.
Paralegal Mohammed Akhtar, was the mastermind of the operation using his job at a solicitors to make contact with immigrants from the Indian sub-continent whose visas had expired.
The 28-year-old was assisted by mother and son Leon Horvat and Vera Horvatova, who recruited 'brides' from Wolverhampton's Czech community to take part in the ceremonies.
Wolverhampton Crown Court heard Akhtar, from Wolverhampton, carried out the scam for more than a year, charging hefty fees for his services while his employers remained oblivious to his crooked behaviour.
To carry out the enterprise he created detailed folders on each 'couple'. They contained photographs staged to give the appearance that the brides and grooms were long term lovers, as well as doctored bank statements, employment references and in one case fake love letters.
Ms Elisabeth Bussey-Jones, prosecuting, told the court: "Akhtar was the key organiser behind the operation.
"These types of arrangement involve large sums being paid by foreign nationals. The defendants motive was clearly profit."
She explained Akhtar recruited EU citizens who would either agree to enter into a sham marriage or pretend to be in a relationship, enabling a foreign national to stay in the UK.
He would then set up a ceremony, often providing registrars with the fake photographs of the 'loving' couple together and bogus letters of approval from parents.
But she said the authorities cottoned on to the scam after being notified of a suspicious marriage by staff at Wolverhampton Register Office.
She told the court Akhtar had been present at the office on July 4, 2013, to book a marriage for an Indian man and Ingrid Munova, a Czech national living in the UK.
"Along with Leon Horvat the defendant claimed to be present with the bride and groom as an interpreter and a witness to the upcoming wedding," she said.
"But staff at the register office became suspicious when the couple showed very little interaction and appeared to know nothing about one another when questioned."
After receiving the tip-off, Home Office officials attended the office on July 26 and stopped the wedding, arresting the four parties involved.
A search of Akhtar's home recovered the folders crucial to exposing the scheme, along with a list containing the names of couples involved in past and planned marriages.
Ms Bussey-Jones continued: "Everything was prepared to promote the appearance of a proper relationship. When an application did not work the partners were simply swapped and the scheme would be tried again.
"This means the same woman could be used to marry several males."
The court heard that on one occasion in June 2013 Czech national Veronika Ondicova married an Indian national while she was heavily pregnant with her real-life partner's child.
Akhtar paid the 'brides' involved in sham marriages sums ranging between £300 and £500.
Mr Rajinder Claire, defending, said Akhtar's primary motivation had been to secure a contract in the legal profession and pursue a career as a solicitor.
Akhtar, of Dunstall Road, Wolverhampton, pleaded guilty to 11 counts of conspiring to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law by a non-EU person. He asked for a further 10 counts of the same charge to be taken into consideration.
Leon Horvat, aged 21, of Dunstall Road, Wolverhampton, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law by a non-EU person, one count of participating in a sham marriage and one count of conspiring to arrange a sham marriage. He was jailed for 32 months.
Eight other people admitted charges relating to conspiring to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law by a non-EU person.
Vera Horvatova, aged 53, of Dunstall Road, was jailed for three years. Veronika Mihalova, 21, also of Dunstall Road was jailed for eight months suspended for 18 months. Ishwarjot Singh, 25, of Highfield Road, Smethwick was sentenced to 12 months in prison.
Sandeep Bhullar, 27, of Tamworth Road, Corley was jailed for 12 months. Ingrid Munova, 36, of Bright Street, Wolverhampton was jailed for six months.
Veronika Ondicova, aged 23, of Gatis Street, Wolverhampton, her sister Lucie Ondicova, 25, of Springfield Road, Wolverhampton and Petra Michalkova, 33, of Carter Road, Wolverhampton, were all jailed for 10 months.
Another defendant, 33-year-old Polish national Marcin Cislak, pleaded guilty to a similar charge and will be sentenced on June 9.
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