April 11, 2006

Sailors took sham brides to boost pay, US says

MIAMI -- Eight U.S. sailors at a Florida navy 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.

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 warrants were issued for the others. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison on each count.

Investigators could not immediately be reached for comment on whether the women were charged with crimes but said their immigration status was under investigation.