When 24-year-old Yuliya Kalinina turned to the Internet in search of a husband, she made it absolutely clear what she was looking for in a relationship:
“Green Card Marriage -- Will pay $300/month. Total $15,000,” the Russian national living in Los Angeles wrote in an ad placed on the Craigslist website. “This is strictly platonic business offer, sex not involved.”
Just in case any would-be Romeos weren’t taking the hint, she added, “NOT required to live together.”
Kalinina’s direct approach was very attractive, drawing the attention not only of the man who would marry her, but also of agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
After nearly two years of what federal prosecutors allege was a sham marriage, Kalinina and her 30-year-old husband, Benjamin C. Adams, were arrested last week at separate residences.
Prosecutors say Kalinina leased Adams a new Ford Mustang for his trouble.
She also took care of the wedding arrangements: Performing the ceremony was Dmitri Chavkerov, an Internet-ordained minister who also happened to be Kalinina’s live-in boyfriend.
“I’d say it’s a fairly blatant example of marriage fraud,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Curtis A. Kin, one of the prosecutors on the case.
Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of ICE investigations in Los Angeles, said it was the first criminal case he was aware of in which people had allegedly used the Internet to engineer a fraudulent marriage in hopes of obtaining a green card.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Kalinina began advertising in the personal ads section of Craigslist in October 2005.
She posted at least eight ads, most of them titled “Green Card Marriage -- Will pay $300/month. Total $15,000.”
According to the court papers, ICE agents also obtained e-mails from Kalinina’s Google account in which she and Adams discussed their potential marriage.
“How long does it have to last for?” Adams allegedly asked, according to a Jan. 9, 2006, e-mail.
“Marriage will take 2-3 years (most likely 2),” Kalinina responded.
Adams then told Kalinina that he had bad credit and suggested she lease a car for him in exchange for agreeing to marry her, the complaint alleges. The two were married Feb. 17, 2006.
A month later, Kalinina leased Adams a 2006 Ford Mustang, the documents state. That April, the couple filed paperwork seeking to establish permanent residency for Kalinina.
When confronted by ICE agents months later, the documents state, Kalinina and her boyfriend -- the man who performed the marriage ceremony -- admitted that the marriage to Adams was a fraud intended to obtain a green card. Marrying her boyfriend would have done nothing to help her immigration status, because he is in the country illegally.
Attorney Dale Rubin, who is representing Kalinina, said his client has a pending asylum application but was concerned that it wouldn’t be granted before she was due to leave the country.
He said Kalinina didn’t know it was illegal to marry for a green card, which he said was evidenced by the blatant language in her ad.
“For some reason, if you’re from Russia, you think the way to get around a problem is to throw money at it,” he said.
Rubin also accused federal agents investigating the case of sitting back and waiting for his client to commit a crime as opposed to warning her that what she was proposing in the ad was against the law.
“They knew about this from Day One,” Rubin said, adding that agents scanning the Internet discovered the ads well before the marriage occurred. “Do they go to her and say you’re not supposed to go about it that way? No. They wait until they have a crime.”
Kalinina, a slight, soft-spoken blond, appeared in court Thursday, handcuffed at the waist and wearing leg irons. She listened to the proceedings through an interpreter as Rubin asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer T. Lum to release his client on $15,000 cash bond.
Rubin told Lum that Kalinina was currently in the country legally, had no previous criminal record and was facing a maximum of six months in prison for her crime.
She also has a long-awaited hearing in her asylum case scheduled for next Thursday, at which she will argue that she was persecuted in her native Russia because of her Armenian heritage, he said. If convicted of the marriage fraud, she would face deportation after serving her sentence.
“She has every incentive to fight this case,” he said.
Lum ordered Kalinina released on $25,000 cash bond and placed her on home confinement with electronic monitoring.
Adams’ attorney, Deputy Federal Public Defender John Littrell, declined to comment.
Susan MacTavish, a spokeswoman for Craigslist, said in an e-mail that about 30 million ads are placed on the site each month and that users routinely “flag down” inappropriate ones.
Frank Johnston, assistant special agent in charge of ICE investigations in Los Angeles, said he wasn’t particularly surprised by the blatant language in Kalinina’s ad.
“It’s just one example of what’s out there on the Internet,” he said.