Russian 'wife' of man accused of conspiring with gunman in San Bernardino attack pleads guilty

The Russian wife of Enrique Marquez Jr., the man accused of conspiring with the shooters in the San Bernardino terror attack, pleaded guilty Thursday to entering into a sham marriage with Marquez and lying to the FBI.

In a Riverside courtroom, Mariya Chernykh, 26, entered the plea to federal charges of conspiracy and perjury, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

Appearing before U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal, Chernykh admitted to putting false statements on her immigration paperwork, lying to FBI agents during her interviews, and giving Marquez regular payments for his continued involvement in the sham marriage.

Bernal could impose up to 20 years in prison and a $1-million fine at Chernykh’s sentencing, scheduled for Nov. 20.

Chernykh was charged last year along with her sister, Tatiana Farook, and her brother-in-law, Syed Raheel Farook, whose younger brother was one of the two terrorists responsible for the Dec. 2, 2015, rampage in San Bernardino that left 14 dead.

Marquez, a former neighbor of the Farook family, was charged with buying weapons used by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, in the attack.

The investigation into the sham marriage was not connected to the terror plot, but federal officials learned of it during their exhaustive probe following the attack.

Chernykh is a Russian citizen who came to the U.S. on a short-term visa in 2009. Prosecutors said she married Marquez to obtain legal U.S. residency, even though the two did not live together and never actually had a marriage ceremony.

Syed Raheel Farook and his wife, Tatiana, helped the couple plan and execute the fraud, prosecutors said. Syed Raheel Farook pleaded guilty earlier this month to conspiracy to commit a crime in relation to a marriage fraud. Tatiana Farook is scheduled to go on trial in March.

Prosecutors say Marquez was paid $200 per month for marrying Chernykh, who wed him so she could gain legal status in the U.S. During interviews with federal agents, prosecutors said Chernykh lied when she claimed to live with Marquez but actually lived in Ontario.

Before tying the knot with Marquez, Chernykh dated a Los Angeles resident named Oscar Romero for several years. The two had a child, and in an interview with The Times in 2015, Romero insisted the couple split up when she married Marquez. 

Prosecutors said that Chernykh and Marquez panicked when they learned of an immigration interview in late 2015. Syed Raheel Farook created a fraudulent lease agreement that suggested Marquez and Chernykh had been living together since November 2014, prosecutors said. The document falsely claimed the couple lived with Farook and his wife at their home in Corona, prosecutors say.

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In online correspondence, the pair openly discussed their jitters over the interview, which was scheduled for Dec. 3, the day after the attack on the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.

Marquez admitted to Chernykh that he was “just a little anxious” and had prepared practice questions, according to the affidavit.

According to court papers, she replied, “Omg!! Enrique I'm the one freaking out here!!! ... I'll see u Monday and we'll talk.”

She had urged him to “relax,” adding, “[I]f they decline me its my problem not yours.”

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno

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