Las Cruces man allegedly involved in marriage fraud scheme

Booking photo for Santiago Aveles. (Credit: Dona Ana County Detention Center)

An undercover investigation involving an alleged marriage scheme that began in June 2016 has led to six people facing federal charges.

According to the court documents the federal indictment files, Yi Lee, Chia-Jung Chang, Dan Zheng, Lian Xiang Deng, Xiao-Yin Le and Santiago Aveles of Las Cruces conspired to commit marriage fraud.

The six suspects are charged with committing marriage fraud for the purpose of evading federal immigration laws.

The scheme involved having U.S. citizens fraudulently marry foreign nationals in return for money, according to the indictment.

Lee is accused of masterminding the entire scheme. According to the indictment, Lee allegedly attempted to arrange fraudulent marriages between certain of his co-defendants and undercover law-enforcement agents.

According to our news partner, the Las Cruces Sun-News, Aveles, Chang, Zheng and Deng, who were arrested last week, were arraigned in federal court in Las Cruces on Thursday. Each entered not guilty pleas. The three Chinese nationals were ordered detained pending trial and Aveles was released under pretrial supervision and other conditions of release. Lee and Xiao-Yan Le have yet to be arrested and are considered fugitives.

If convicted of the charges in the indictment, each of the defendants faces a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment on the conspiracy charge, and Aveles and Zheng each face a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment on the marriage fraud charge.

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