Sham weddings end in prison honeymoon
It was a sophisticated money-making racket designed to flout immigration laws and allow non-EU citizens to live in the UK after the Home Office had told them to leave.
But the biggest sham marriage operation the Black Country has ever seen is now in tatters, its participants facing prison sentences totalling more than 16 years.
Paralegal Mohammed Akhtar, who masterminded the scheme from his home in Wolverhampton, has been jailed for five years.
The 28-year-old had recruited Czech nationals to participate in the fake weddings, using his role working at a firm of solicitors to pair them up with illegal immigrants.
Nine other people, seven of whom live in Wolverhampton, were also jailed by a judge who described the enterprise as 'a sophisticated criminal conspiracy developed to make money'.
Home Office Inspector Andy Radcliffe headed a 10-month investigation which led to the arrests.
He said the sentences sent a clear message to anyone considering getting involved in breaking immigration laws.
"This was a long-running, successful operation which has resulted in substantial prison sentences being handed out to those involved.
"The system is designed to help genuine couples stay in the UK, but others like Akhtar try to exploit it for financial gain."
"It is hard to put a figure on how many of these types of marriages take place, but there is no indication that this type of activity is any more prevalent here than in other areas of the country," added Mr Radcliffe.
Prosecutors told Wolverhampton Crown Court that Akhtar's associate Leon Horvat and his mother Vera Horvatova played roles as fixers in the operation, charged with the task of finding EU citizens and offering them cash to marry illegal immigrants.
Other defendants were described by their lawyers as being further down the food chain, seeing their involvement in the scam as a means to either lessen their financial struggles or gain residence in the UK.
Mr Radcliffe added: "It is possible that some of them didn't see it as a crime as there is no identifiable victim. But the tax paying public in the UK is the real victim."
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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