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Pastor paid low-income Americans to marry foreign citizens in immigration scam, feds say

·2 min read

A 50-year-old pastor in Maryland is accused of orchestrating pervasive immigration fraud involving sham marriages, fraudulent residency applications, bogus reference letters and fake rental agreements.

Joshua Olatokunbo Shonubi, also known as Olatokunbo Joshua Shonubi, was indicted on charges of conspiring to commit marriage fraud and visa fraud, as well as submitting false documents to a government agency, federal prosecutors in Maryland said Thursday in a news release.

The indictment was initially filed under seal on Wednesday, court filings show.

Contact information for Shonubi was not immediately available, and his federal court file did not list a defense attorney as of Friday.

Shonubi, who is from Bowie, Maryland, is the pastor at NewLife City Church in nearby Hyattsville, prosecutors said. The two towns, which sit just outside Washington, D.C., are about 12 miles apart.

According to the indictment, the alleged fraud lasted from 2014 until this year. During that time, prosecutors said Shonubi received “thousands of dollars from foreign nationals in exchange for connecting them with United States citizen sponsors and facilitating their marriages.”

As pastor of NewLife, Shonubi is accused of recruiting and grooming people whom prosecutors described as “economically disadvantaged.” He reportedly promised those individuals money to marry foreign citizens and serve as a sponsor for permanent residency in the U.S.

Shonubi sometimes officiated the marriages, the government said, or sent the couple to Virginia for a civil ceremony.

Prosecutors didn’t include the foreign citizens’ country of origin in court filings.

Once a couple was married, and if he was paid enough, Shonubi would fill out the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services forms needed to apply for residency, the indictment states.

He also submitted documents supporting the applications, including fake reference letters written on NewLife letterhead describing the legitimacy of the marriage, prosecutors said. The letters reportedly contained false assertions about how Shonubi knew the couple and how he provided spiritual guidance and counseling, as well as his purported belief that the marriage was based on romance.

Prosecutors said Shonubi penned at least 38 of these letters.

The pastor also had a company called Jaypro Inc., which he is accused of using as a front for bogus lease agreements. According to the indictment, Shonubi had the couples whose fraudulent marriages he arranged sign leases with Jaypro showing they lived together.

At least 34 of those fraudulent leases were submitted to the government, prosecutors said.

In total, Shonubi is accused of submitting 60 applications for permanent residency that contained false supporting documents.

Shonubi was arrested and had his first court appearance before a federal judge in Baltimore on Thursday, prosecutors said.

He faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and up to an additional five years for each of the six counts pertaining to filing false documents. Prosecutors said the actual sentence on federal charges is likely less than the maximum penalty.

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