Issaquah restaurateur faces federal charges
June 30, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Immigration agents arrested Issaquah restaurateur Varee Bradford last week on federal charges of paying her employees to enter “sham marriages” with Thai citizens to help them to stay in the United States.
Bradford, 43, operates the chain of Thai Ginger restaurants.
Authorities unsealed a federal grand-jury indictment in U.S. District Court in Seattle June 23 against Bradford and former Thai Ginger employee Porramin Tangchaiwanna, 32, known by the nickname Golf.
Bradford pleaded not guilty and was released on her own recognizance after a first appearance in U.S. District Court in Seattle the same day. Tangchaiwanna will be held pending trial due to questions about his immigration status.
The indictment accuses Bradford of offering her employees up to $25,000 to enter sham marriages with her Thai relatives for immigration purposes. She is charged with four immigration crimes stemming from four instances from 2001 to 2007 in which marriages were set up between Thai Ginger employees and her relatives.
The charges against Bradford include a single count of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud and three counts of fraud related to providing false information on immigration paperwork. She faces a maximum prison term of five years on the conspiracy charge and 10 years on each of the document fraud counts.
Bradford could not be reached for comment.
The indictment also includes a criminal forfeiture allegation. Authorities want to seize any property Bradford purchased with money earned through criminal activity.
Tangchaiwanna is charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. Authorities said he helped Bradford set up a sham marriage with an undercover immigration agent. He faces a maximum prison term of five years.
Lorie Dankers, spokeswoman for the Seattle office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said immigrants who enter marriages with U.S. citizens solely for the purpose of a permanent resident “green card” could be approved ahead of other immigrants on the path to legal citizenship.
“People who try to come here legally, they spend years filling out the forms and paying the fees” and fraudulent marriages allow other immigrants to “jump ahead of them,” Dankers said.
If a foreigner marries a U.S. citizen, he or she is eligible to immigrate to the United States immediately, but federal agents will investigate the couple and interview husband and wife to determine whether the union is legitimate.
Court documents said Bradford asked a female employee to marry a Thai male relative in 2001. The man needed to sponsor his daughter to come to the United States from Thailand. Bradford later loaned the woman $3,780.
Authorities said Bradford asked a female employee to marry a Thai citizen in 2005 to help him obtain a green card. Bradford offered the woman $20,000, the court documents said. She told the woman she would only have to remain married for two years, until the man received a green card. Throughout 2005 and 2006, the employee received payments amounting to more than $20,000.
Court documents said Bradford asked a male employee to marry a female relative in 2005. The woman wanted to bring her two children to the United States. Bradford paid the man $10,000 to $15,000 for the marriage.
Authorities said Bradford arranged for her nephew to marry a female employee in 2006. The employee was paid $15,000.
Court documents said the scheme began to unravel when an undercover Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent met with Bradford and Tangchaiwanna in February 2008 at a Thai Ginger in Seattle. Bradford introduced the agent to a woman identified as Nikki and told the agent she would pay him $20,000 to marry the woman.
Tangchaiwanna told the agent he would receive his first $5,000 on the day of the wedding and his final $5,000 payment on the day Nikki received a green card. Bradford and Tangchaiwanna then instructed the agent to speak with Nikki frequently in order to prepare for the immigration interview. Bradford told the agent he would have to stay married for two years.
Bradford is next scheduled to appear in court Aug. 31 before U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo S. Martinez.
Thai Ginger operates restaurants on the Eastside in Klahanie, Bellevue and Redmond. The chain also includes two Seattle restaurants and a counter at Safeco Field.
Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.