April 11, 2006

Sailors took sham brides to boost pay

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - Eight U.S. sailors at a Florida naval
station fraudulently married Polish and Romanian women in order
to collect extra housing allowances, according to federal
charges filed on Tuesday.

The women did not live with their Navy husbands, but used
the sham marriages to apply for U.S. citizenship, U.S. Attorney
Paul Perez said in a news release.

The sailors, seven of whom are still in the Navy, were all
stationed at the Mayport naval station in northeast Florida.

They were charged with conspiracy, marriage fraud and
making false claims to the government to collect $35,000 worth
of extra housing allowances.

The tax-free allowances for off-base housing are based
partly on marital status and number of dependents.

"They only married them so they could collect that money,"
said Steve Cole, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The women were also charged with marriage fraud and
authorities were investigating whether they violated
immigration laws, he said.

A federal probe began in September when a sailor told the
Naval Criminal Investigative Service that another sailor
offered him the extra housing allowance in exchange for
marrying a Polish woman. He said the sailor who acted as
matchmaker collected $6,000 from the bride.

The sailors were assigned to the USS John F. Kennedy, an
aircraft carrier, and the USS Simpson, a frigate. Five assigned
to the Kennedy were in custody on Tuesday and arrest warrants
were issued for the others. If convicted, they face up to five
years in prison on each count.