RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A Corona man whose brother went on a deadly shooting rampage in San Bernardino pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to conspiracy to commit immigration fraud connected to a sham marriage that preceded his
younger sibling's terrorist attack.
Syed Raheel Farook, 31, admitted the charge during an impromptu change-of-plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for Nov. 13 at the federal courthouse in Riverside.
Farook, who remains free on bond, is facing up to five years in federal prison.
``Today's guilty plea is the result of the thorough investigation into the brutal attack in San Bernardino that took the lives of 14 innocent Americans and tragically affected many more shooting victims and family members,'' said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker in Los Angeles. ``Law enforcement and prosecutors in my office continue to seek justice for the victims and the entire community of San Bernardino by uncovering and prosecuting all of the criminal activity related to the terrible events of December 2, 2015.''
Syed Farook's 28-year-old brother, Sayeed Rizwan Farook, carried out the terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center with his wife, 27-year-old Tashfeen Malik. The two jihadis were killed a few hours later during a gun battle with police.
In the ensuing investigation, FBI agents uncovered the marriage fraud scheme that culminated in indictments last April against Syed Farook, his wife, Tatiana Farook, 31, and her sister, Mariya Chernykh, 26, of Ontario.
The indictment alleged that the threesome conspired to obtain immigration benefits for Chernykh, a Russian citizen who allegedly entered into a bogus marriage with Enrique Marquez Jr., a friend of Sayeed Rizwan Farook.
Marquez was indicted last January for allegedly supplying Sayeed Farook and Malik with the semiautomatic rifles that they used to perpetrate the IRC killing spree.
According to federal authorities, the Farooks engaged in the alleged conspiracy by standing as witnesses at Marquez and Chernykh's wedding, taking staged family pictures of the couple, creating a joint checking account for Marquez and Chernykh, as well as a back-dated lease that implied they shared a marital residence.
Marquez and Chernykh allegedly signed immigration documents, under penalty of perjury, falsely stating that they both lived at the same address. Investigators said Marquez received money from Chernykh as part of the
arrangement. She lives with another man.
``Let there be no doubt, immigration benefit fraud is a serious crime,'' said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles. ``When people use false or misleading
information in order to obtain an immigration benefit for themselves or others, it creates a security vulnerability that could be exploited by criminals and other individuals who pose a serious danger to our community.''
Chernykh, who is free on bond, is charged with conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, perjury, making materially false statements to the government and misuse of work visas and permits. Tatiana Farook, who is also free on bond, is charged with conspiracy to commit immigration fraud.
The women have a March 28 trial date at U.S. District Court in Riverside. Marquez's trial is also tentatively scheduled for late March.