SACRAMENTO, CA - A Citrus Heights man faces up to 10 years in federal prison when he is sentenced after pleading guilty to immigration fraud involving what the U.S. Attorney's Office said was a scheme to allow foreign nationals to come to the U.S. under false marriages.
Federal prosecutors said Sergey Potepalov, 57, was the mastermind of a group of 14 defendants who arranged for foreign nationals from Eastern Europe and Russia to marry U.S. citizens to obtain fiance visas and green cards to be in the U.S. The involved U.S. citizens were paid up to $5,000 to participate in the conspiracy and the foreign nationals paid up to five figures, according to court documents.
The defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, to defraud the United States, to make false statements, and to induce an alien to enter and remain in the United States.
Federal immigration officials began investigating Potepalov in 2006 and 2009 served search warrants at his home. In affidavits, the agents claimed recovering immigration application, computer files and other evidence such as photos of defendants posing in "wedding" photos, apartment rental forms made out with names of the "husband" and "wife" and instructions on how to respond to immigration officials' questions.
The cases of some of the other defendants have been adjudicated. Keith O'Neil, 46, of Sacramento, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months prison. Marla Brennan, 32, of Sacramento, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months prison and six months of home confinement. Richard Vargas, 40, of Sacramento, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months prison. Olga Nekrasova, 27, of San Francisco, pleaded guilty and was deported after serving four months in prison. Brian Barnes, 33, of Sacramento, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 months prison. Marlena Colvin, 29, of Sacramento, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 months home confinement. Anthony Rivera, 37, Sacramento pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing. Veranika Koushal, 34, of West Palm Beach, Fla., pleaded guilty to making false statements and awaits sentencing.
Four of five other defendants, including Yuriy Korzhov, 49, of Roseville are fugitives. Defendant Pavel Berezenko, 55, of Sacramento, has a status conference March 28.
Potepalov's sentencing was set for Aug. 15.