March 09, 2009

10 Indicted In Alleged Russian Marriage Scheme
updated 4:17 p.m. PT, Fri., March. 6, 2009

CINCINNATI - Ten people were indicted Friday in what authorities described as a scheme to recruit Cincinnati women to marry Russian men to circumvent immigration laws.

The 10 defendants were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and provide false information. The grand jury said the defendants knowingly entered into illegal marriages in exchange for money.

The defendants named in the indictment are Oksana Helms, Dmitry Mistryukov, Alena Atamaniuk, Anna Litvinenko Johnson, Stephanie Snyder, Azat Murtazin, Talgat Abishev, Katsiaryna Mosser Usachova, Grigori Porh and Durrell Hammonds.

The grand jury also found the defendants lied on immigration forms and recruited people from Russia and other former Soviet nations to participate in the marriage fraud.

Three of the defendants, Porh, Litvinenko and Murtazin, were also charged with one count each of marriage fraud.

Inside The Operation

News 5 first uncovered the Russian marriage ring in a February 2007 investigation.

News 5 interviewed several women from the West Side of Cincinnati who said they had agreed to marry Russian men and help them get their green cards in exchange for $700.

The women said they received coaching from the organizers of the marriage ring on how to make immigration officers believe that they were happily married to a man they barely knew.

The women said they were threatened when they tried to file for an annulment or a divorce.

"I told him that I was thinking about getting a divorce, and he's like, 'You don't want to mess with the Russians.' Pretty much just made it clear, don't do it," said one of the brides who wished to keep her identity secret for fear of retribution.

One of the defendants named in the indictment, Azat Murtazin, spoke with News 5 back in 2007. At the time, he said his job was simply to play matchmaker for men looking to marry American women.

"My job was just, you know, just meet them, that's all," he said.

When questioned about whether he had threatened the American brides who wanted a divorce, he replied, "It's up (to) them, I mean, I mean, no. You see, a few times I said, 'Don't mess with the Russians.' But I mean, I didn't mean something bad to them."

News 5 also spoke with Bozhidar Bakalov, a former Procter & Gamble marketing manager, who admitted being part of the operation.

"It is not a scam to deceive immigration in any way, shape or form," said Bakalov. "It's a matchmaking service with a different twist to it," he said.

Bakalov insisted he was in the practice of organizing arranged marriages. "More than half the world is involved in arranged marriages," he said.

Bakalov is mentioned in the indictment but does not face charges. The indictment stated that Bakalov was initially "the leader and organizer of the conspiracy," but that he was no longer actively leading it.

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