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How an LA marriage fraud scheme helped over 300 people obtain green cards

Defne Karabatur, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

It was a midsummer day in 2021 when Engilbert Ulan met with a newlywed couple in Los Angeles to help them prepare for questions they expected to face from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The husband, a 53-year-old foreign national, had begun the process of applying for a green card and needed to pass an interview scheduled for a few days later. He and his wife, a U.S. citizen, would have to prove their marriage was legitimate.

Ulan moved them through the list of 211 possible questions that his boss, Marcialito "Mars" Biol Benitez, had provided.

"What is the color of your spouse's toothbrush?" Ulan asked. "Who sleeps on the right side of the bed?"

But according to federal prosecutors, Ulan knew the couple's marriage was bogus. By then, authorities say, he had already met with hundreds of Benitez's clients, who were recruited by brokers in a prolific marriage fraud scheme. The clients, many of whom were Brazilian nationals, paid up to $30,000 in cash for Benitez's services.

Ulan, 42, was convicted last week by a federal jury in Boston of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and immigration document fraud. He now faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The 49-year-old Benitez, who pleaded guilty in August to orchestrating the marriage fraud enterprise, testified against his former employee and could ultimately receive a shorter sentence than Ulan.


Ulan's attorney, Joseph Simons, called Benitez "the architect of the arranged marriage business," and said his client, a Philippine national who resided in Pasadena, only played a small part in the operation.

"The evidence as I saw it painted Mr. Ulan as a hardworking man who came to the United States looking for a better life, and who took the opportunity to help support his family back in the Philippines," Simons said. "Unfortunately for Mr. Ulan, he trusted his then-boss, and perhaps unwittingly ended up taking a minor role in his fraudulent immigration scheme."

Ulan was the 10th person to be convicted in the case, with nine other co-defendants pleading guilty. His sentencing is scheduled for March.

Jodi Cohen, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston division, said in a statement that Ulan's conviction should "serve as a warning" to others who commit marriage fraud.


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