Fil Am Marriage ‘Fixer” Sentenced To Serve 33 Months Imprisonment

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (jGLi) – A Filipino American Chicago Cook County deputy clerk of court, who wanted to supplement her income by arranging 27 fraudulent marriages to evade immigration laws and enable foreign nationals, mostly Filipinos, to illegally become U.S. Citizens, and making from $1,000 to $3,000 per marriage, was sentenced Thursday (Jan. 12) to 33 months (two years and nine months) imprisonment as “the best and most effective way of preventing large marriage conspiracy and the next would-be arrangers of fraudulent marriages will think twice about his or her conduct if they know they will pay a stiff penalty if caught.”

According to Randall Samborn, public information officer of the United States Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, Maria Flordelis Pulido-Cruz is going to begin serving her sentence on April 23, 2012.

U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan of the Northern District of Illinois sent Ms. Cruz, 50, to 33 months in prison during sentencing held Thursday. There was no fine announced.

Apparently, the sentencing memorandum filed by Ms. Cruz last Jan. 9 missed the deadline set by Judge Der-Yeghiyan on Jan. 5 and did not factor in the decision. Instead of asking the Court to extend submission of deadline of sentencing memorandum on or before Jan. 5, Cruz’s lawyers went ahead to file the memorandum that was no longer discussed during the Thursday’s sentencing.

Cruz’s sentencing is the first among the 10 defendants involved in the conspiracy.

Her co-accused Atty. Manny Aguja is slated for sentencing on Feb. 15, 2012 but Attorney Aguja has until Feb. 8, 2012 “to file any further sentencing position papers, letters or objections to the PSR (Pre-Sentence Report). Defendant is warned that failure to appear for sentencing on 02/15/2012 may result in the issuance of a bench warrant.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason A. Yonan on behalf of U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald recommended 30 to 37 imprisonment for Ms. Cruz “given defendant’s status as organizer and leader of this conspiracy and given the need to deter individuals from arranging fraudulent marriages, the government requests that this Court impose a sentence at the high-end of advisory (Sentencing) Guidelines range,” according to the U.S. sentencing memorandum submitted on Nov. 22, 2011.

FRAUD MARRIAGE PULLED ON UNDERCOVER AGENTS

It was beginning from July 2003 and up to Oct. 2009 when Ms. Cruz together with Attorney Aguja and twin brother, Marc Aguja, Celeste Ligutan-Lopez, Maria Cyd Adriatico-Fernandez, Sonia Maki, DeShawn Barksdale, Latrice Wilson, Keisha McGary and Eugene Wilson conspired to commit certain offenses.

The last marriage involved fraudulent marriages of undercover agents on Feb. 6 and Feb. 19, 2009.

Ms. Cruz paid the accused U.S. Citizens, mostly her co-workers at the Cook County Circuit Court, $3,000 each. She paid each of them from $300 to $350 each month from moneys put up by foreign nations until they (foreign nationals) became legal permanent residents.

The marriages took place at the Daley Center in Chicago’s Loop, where Ms. Cruz worked but she “did not want to be recognized.”

Ms. Cruz instructed the U.S. Citizens and foreign nationals to “take pictures together, get to know details about each others’ lives, file taxes jointly and obtain joint bank accounts and life insurance.”

The U.S. government said Ms. Cruz, who was making $38,000 a year as a Traffic Court Clerk was motivated by greed when she “repeatedly engage (sic) in prolonged fraudulent conduct so that she could obtain more money.”

Ms. Cruz also caused other co-defendants to be “charged with felonies, including her co-workers, Keisha McGary, DeShawn Barksdale, Latrice Wilson, Eugene Wilson and Sonia Maki, who lost their jobs and received felony convictions.”

Ms. Cruz also referred the foreign nationals to Maria Cyd Adriatico-Fernandez, Atty. Manny Aguja and Celeste Ligutan-Lopez to prepare the false marriage applications.

Others lined up for sentencing are DeShawn Barksdale on Feb. 9, 2012; Latrice Wilson on Feb. 23, 2012; Keisha McGary, Feb. 29, 2012; and Sonia Maki, on March 6, 2012. Sentencing for the three others are still being scheduled, according to Samborn.

In her sentencing memorandum Jan. 9, Ms. Cruz appealed to Judge Der-Yeghiayan to reduce her sentence to “no more than 18 months imprisonment,” even citing an undated letter of her daughter – Victoria May Pulido Layson — appealing for leniency before her daughter died in a car accident in her city of origin – Dipolog City – in the Philippines.

The Court even allowed Ms. Cruz to return to Dipolog City to bury her daughter, May Layson.

Ms. Cruz also presented several character letters, including hers, where Ms. Cruz told the court, “my sincere apologies to everyone and the U.S. government. This big mistake is so painful and shameful to me, my family and to everyone I hurt. I will never, ever do this again. I am truly sorry.” (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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