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23 Federally Indicted in Cambodian Marriage Scam

The lure: up to $10,000 in cash and an all-expenses paid trip to a beach in Cambodia.

For the men, throw in a free trip to a Cambodian brothel; and for the women, discounted nail service at salons in Louisville, Ky.

The mission: Marry foreign-born Cambodian nationals so they could win permanent resident status in the United States.

In an indictment made public Tuesday, a federal grand jury in Louisville has charged that 20 U.S. citizens took the bait, including residents of Louisville, Lexington, Ky., and Georgetown, Ky. In all, 23 people were arrested in three states and charged with conspiring to orchestrate more than a dozen bogus marriages and attempted unions.

As part of the elaborate plot, the recruited Americans and their Cambodian fiancees were photographed frolicking in hotel rooms, at beaches and at tourist attractions in Cambodia, where they were instructed to frequently change attire to give the appearance of multiple meetings during long-term relationships, the indictment charges.

The American brides and grooms were paid $1,000 to $5,000 to get engaged, then a matching amount when they tied the knot in civil ceremonies back in Louisville.

The organizers plied one groom - identified in the indictment as Donald McKinley Martin, 27, of Georgetown, with sexual favors at a Cambodian nightclub, offering him two young women identified as virgins.

When one of the would-be brides, Sharon Lee Spalding, 44, of Lexington, got cold feet about marrying upon her return to Kentucky, according to the indictment, one of the organizers, Vuthea Niev, alias "T," 57, of Prospect, Ky., allegedly threatened to kill her.

She eventually wed Chok Chan, 49, and they both swore the marriage was legitimate, but they later divorced, as did the other coupes who wed, the indictment states.

It charges that the conspiracy spanned 10 years and didn't end until last week.

In a news release issued by the U.S. Attorney's office in Louisville, John Morton, the Department of Homeland Security's Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency "will not tolerate those who facilitate, arrange, or profit from sham marriages to criminally exploit our nation's generous immigration system.

"Marriage fraud results in an illegal shortcut to U.S. citizenship and poses a concern to our national security," he said. "All of those involved in these false marriages will be held accountable."

The indictment charges that Americans were recruited for the scheme at nail salons owned by the organizers, and were promised cut-rate service for participating.

Recruits were then urged to recruit others, and eventually 20 were drawn into the scheme, including a dozen who weren't charged and are identified in the charging document by their initials.

The maximum penalties for most counts in the 10-count indictment are five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The defendants will appear for arraignment on dates to be set in Louisville and elsewhere.

The others charged as organizers of the alleged scheme were Michael Chanthou Chin, 39, of New Albany, Ind.; Patrick Theng Chea, 45, of Louisville; Steve Sovan Uy, alias Sovan Oum, 43, of Nashville, Tenn.; Phearoun Peter Em, alias Sophea Lim, 22, of Sellersburg, Ind.; and Monirath Em, alias Angel, 32, of New Albany.

Niev is a U.S. citizen and the others are Cambodian-born naturalized U.S. citizens, according to the indictment. None of them could be reached for comment.

The other U.S. residents charged with participating or attempting to participate in fraudulent marriages were Jeremy Dickson Carmickle, 38, Christopher William McAlister Sr., 52, Christopher William McAlister Jr., 25, Stephanie Jean Murphy, 31, and Asaad Abdulrazak Alkinani, 39, all of Louisville; and Justin Michael Martin, 25, of Georgetown.

The defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, while some are also charged with marriage and visa fraud, said U.S. Attorney Candace Hill.

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