CHICAGO – A Filipina from Laguna, Philippines filed last July 1 an appeal of her three-year jail sentence imposed on her by the Northern District Court of Illinois for arranging 33 marriage applications that enabled Filipinos to become legal permanent residents.
The appeal was filed before the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, Illinois.
In a notice of appeal, Teresita Zarrabian, through her lawyer Heather L. Winslow, filed the appeal before the Seventh Circuit as “final judgment has not yet been entered.”
Judge John J. Tharp, Jr. of the Northern District Court of Illinois sentenced Ms. Zarrabian, 63, last June 30 to 36-month imprisonment after agreeing to a plea agreement with U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Zachary T. Fardon and her lawyer, Ms. Winslow, on March 5, 2015. She had earlier pleaded guilty to Count 1, which accused her “of conspiring to knowingly enter into marriages U.S. citizens and Filipino foreigners to evade provisions of immigration laws that will make them become legal permanent residents.”
Zarrabian was also charged with marriage fraud (Counts 2 to 4); visa fraud Counts 5 to 6; and obstruction of justice. These charges were eventually dismissed after Judge Tharp accepted the plea agreement.
The plea agreement stated that from Sept. 2005 up to Oct. 2012 at Arlington Heights, Illinois, Zarrabian did knowingly conspire with Michael Smith and with others to commit the offense against the U.S., namely to knowingly enter into marriages and attempt to enter into marriages for the purpose of evading provisions of immigration laws.
These laws “restrict the availability of legal permanent resident status, applied for on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen, to those foreign-born nationals, who have entered into marriage in good faith, not in exchange for something of value and not for getting the foreign national’s admission as an immigrant, and to aid and abet the commission of said offense.”
Through her business, Zarrabian and Associates, Zarrabian prepared Forms I-130 (petitions for alien relative) and I-485 (petitions for adjustment to legal permanent resident) for at least 33 foreign-born nationals, including children, who paid her from $8,000 to $17,000. From these amounts, $5,000 was given to U.S. citizens, who agreed to “marry” foreign nationals.
U.S. federal investigators, however, claimed that Zarrabian filed 111 immigration applications, which were all denied.
To make the fraudulent weddings appear legitimate, Zarrabian urged “couples” to travel to Las Vegas, Nevada and contract marriages there and have their pictures taken to make it look credible. Some were also asked to make their residence as backdrops of the photos.
She also counseled the couples what to say and do during interviews with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
It was on April 9, 2010 when Zarrabian counseled an undercover law enforcement agent, who posed as a U.S. citizen willing to enter into a fraudulent marriage when Zarrabian’s scheme unraveled. When she told a client to lie to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the marriage fraud conspiracy, Zarrabian was charged with obstruction to justice.
Because Zarrabian has 14 days to file an appeal after the entry of judgment of conviction, she elevated her case to the Seventh Circuit, hoping to reduce her sentence from 36 months to probation.
Her conspirator in the scheme, Michael Smith, who recruited U.S. citizens for the arranged marriage, was sentenced last November to one year in prison.
In her sentencing memorandum, Zarrabian said she is one of the 14 children of a father, who is a civil engineer, who left them with “education as the only inheritance.” She completed her law studies in the Philippines and landed a job with Motorola Corp. of the Philippines, which provided her car and enabled her to travel around the Philippines and in other countries.