In Nigeria, Kwaphoom Hoomkwap came from a good family, the son of a senator.
Then both his parents died and he came to New York on a student visa, which he overstayed by eight years, hoping to make the United States his permanent home.
In January, federal court records said, the Nigerian got recruited into a sham marriage scheme that paired immigrants with Fort Bragg soldiers willing to wed for money. When he went to Fayetteville to fill out his marriage license, he got arrested instead.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle sentenced Hoomkwap to roughly four months in federal prison, giving him credit for the time he has already spent there.
He handed the same time-served sentence to Sulemana Ibrahim, a native of Ghana and father of two who fell into the same fake marriage plot while overstaying a tourist visa.
“They look for an outlet,” Boyle said, “and this is an outlet.”
The two men must still wrestle with their immigration issues and will likely be forced to leave the country.
“I’m very sorry for what I’ve done,” Ibrahim said in court Wednesday.
Soldiers named in indictment
The federal Immigration and Nationality Act allows foreigners to become lawful residents when they marry U.S. citizens, but only if the wedding was arranged in “good faith” and not in exchange for cash or anything else of value.
Also prohibited by the act: marrying for the sake of legal status for an immigrant.
Ibrahim and Hoomkwap both came to Fayetteville through a conspiracy arranged by a pair of Fort Bragg soldiers, both of them naturalized citizens born in Ghana and both of them named in a February indictment for the conspiracy.
The first, Spc. Ahmid Murtada, recruited a fellow soldier identified only as E.M.E. to marry Ibrahim, giving her $1,250 and money for furniture, the February indictment said. Once married, according to the scheme, E.M.E. could move to an apartment off-post and qualify for military benefits available only to married couples.
She and Ibrahim married in Fayetteville in July, and the groom applied for permanent resident status in November. Shortly afterward, the indictment said, E.M.E. met the second soldier, Sgt. Edward Anguah, who told her he had arranged numerous marriages and knew what she was doing.
Questioned by Boyle Wednesday, assistant U.S. Attorney Gabriel Diaz said Anguah was coordinating the search for likely immigrant grooms in New York.
“He’ll be before this court next month,” Diaz said.
The fraud was uncovered, court documents said, when E.M.E. was discovered in a sexual relationship with another man despite being married to Ibrahim.
Anguah later met in a coffee shop with an undercover officer posing as a willing bride. “The (agent) asked for $800, to which Anguah laughed and suggested she charge $2,000,” the indictment said, adding, “Anguah also asked the (agent) about marriage-related issues such as dresses and wedding rings. Anguah stated he would take care of the ring and ‘everything.’”
Hoomkwap is now on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer, which the federal agency uses when it intends to take custody of prisoners. His attorney Christian Dysart said his client has family in the United States.
“His sisters are in his corner,” Dysart said. “They want very much for him to stay in the United States. He has no real ties to Nigeria.”
© 2019 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
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