San Bernardino shooter's friend Enrique Marquez accused of fraud in $200-per-month marriage

Enrique Marquez Jr. walked into a Riverside bar in 2014 and beamed as he made a big announcement: They were now looking at a married man. 

Few at Morgan’s Tavern believed Marquez's claim that he and a Russian émigré had tied the knot, recalled Nick Rodriguez, once a regular at the pub.

“She won’t even kiss me,” Marquez once said, according to Rodriguez. Marquez would never talk about his wife, show photos of her, or bring her to the bar.

“He even said it himself, ‘It’s a fake. Just for the papers,’” Rodriguez said.

Sham or not, Marquez’s marriage has unraveled in the weeks since the Dec. 2 rampage at a holiday party in San Bernardino, an attack that was carried out by Marquez’s childhood friend and former neighbor, Syed Rizwan Farook and Farook's wife, Tashfeen Malik. Farook and Malik died later in a shootout with police.

After Marquez emerged as the buyer of two weapons used in the shooting that killed 14 at the Inland Regional Center, public records disclosed that he had marital ties to Farook. 

Marquez had eloped with Mariya Chernykh, the sister of Tatiana Farook, the wife of the gunman's older brother, Syed Raheel Farook, according to the marriage license. The witnesses to Marquez and Chernykh's marriage were Syed Raheel and Tatiana Farook, according to the marriage license and court papers. 

On Thursday, federal prosecutors charged Marquez with immigration fraud in connection with the marriage, alleging he gave false information on documents in order to secure residency for Chernykh, who came to the U.S. in 2009 on a short-term visa for an educational or cultural program.

An affidavit filed with the charges detailed how a terror plot revealed a marital plot. 

Marquez told federal investigators that Farook’s brother informed him of Chernykh's need to get married in order to gain residency in the U.S., according to the affidavit filed in federal court.

In exchange for joining the union, Chernykh paid Marquez $200 per month, an arrangement that is supported by his banking records, according to court papers.

On Dec. 3, shortly after their first anniversary and the day after the shooting, the couple was scheduled for an immigration interview. Neither showed up, according to court papers.

In online messages that Marquez shared with federal investigators, both had expressed anxiety about the interview process.

After Marquez admitted to her that he was "just a little anxious" and wanted to chat about the interview, Chernykh replied, "Omg!! Enrique I'm the one freaking out here!!! Relax I'll see u Monday and we'll talk."

He said he developed a list of possible questions for the interview and floated a theory for why they both seemed nervous.

The "only reason why we're anxious is because we haven't hung out that much," Marquez wrote, according to court papers.

After the couple married on Nov. 29, 2014, at the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco, Marquez submitted immigration paperwork that he and his new wife lived in Corona, according to court papers. The address corresponds to the home owned by Syed Raheel Farook.

But neighbors and friends say they hardly seemed like a cohabiting couple.

Brittani Adams, who lives down the street from where Marquez and Chernykh claimed to have lived, said Marquez visited the house on occasion. But Adams said she never saw him with Chernykh and that news of the marriage stunned her.

"He would never leave with her, come with her, not hug her," she said.

Viviana Ramirez, a friend of Marquez, said he rarely spoke of his marriage or was joined by his wife in social settings.

And Marquez’s family did not learn of the union until he had checked into Harbor UCLA Medical Center after the shooting, according to court papers.

Marquez’s mother, brother and father told federal authorities that he shared a bedroom with his brother at his family’s home in Riverside, next door to where the Farook family lived until this year, according to the affidavit.

Chernykh, however, told investigators that she and Marquez lived together in Corona, at her sister's family's home, because they could not afford their own residence, according to the affidavit.

Marquez said otherwise, telling investigators that his wife lived in Ontario with her boyfriend who is also the father of her child, according to court papers. In social media accounts, Chernykh listed her last name as that man's surname, Romero, according to the affidavit. 

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In a telephone interview with The Times earlier this month, Oscar Romero said he was the father of Chernykh's child but said that he did not know of his ex-girlfriend's whereabouts. He said their relationship ended before she married Marquez in 2014.

“I don’t know anything about the situation – like I said, she’s my baby’s mama. Whatever she does with her life,” he said, is her business.

Romero provided few details about when he and Chernykh met. 

Even though Marquez had married the mother of his child, Romero said that he had no expectation that Marquez would assume any form of custody.

“I don’t think that’s ever going to happen," he added. "I don’t even know who Enrique is."

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno

Hamilton reported in Los Angeles. Parvini and Mejia reported in Riverside. Times staff writer Kate Mather contributed to this report.


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