By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly
After getting arrested for allegedly paying employees money to enter “sham marriages” with her relatives overseas, the owner of Thai Ginger restaurant chain, Varee Bradford, pleaded not guilty to federal charges on Tuesday, June 23.
Bradford, 43, faced a federal grand-jury indictment in U.S. District Court in Seattle. The Associated Press (AP) reported that she was charged with three counts of immigration document fraud and one charge of immigration fraud. Bradford was also charged with helping to complete immigration forms that claimed the arranged marriages were real.
After making an initial appearance Tuesday afternoon and entering her plea in U.S. District Court, Bradford was released on personal recognizance.
Charging documents identified Bradford’s involvement in four marriages between 2001 and 2007. Her employees — three men and one woman — married four Thai nationals. Three of the immigrants were Bradford’s relatives.
The AP reported that Bradford told her employees the marriages had to last only two years or until the Thai nationals obtained permanent resident “green cards” to stay in the United States.
Thai Ginger employees were offered between $10,000 and $20,000 to marry the Thai nationals. The AP reported that one of the employees was promoted to a management position and was given a loan of nearly $4,000.
Porramin “Golf” Tangchaiwanna, 32, was charged with helping Bradford arrange a fifth sham marriage that was exposed by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who went undercover and met with Bradford and Tangchaiwanna in February 2008.
The undercover agent initially met Bradford at her Thai Ginger restaurant in Bellevue. According to court documents, Bradford asked the agent to marry a restaurant employee named Lyn so that she could stay in the United States. He was offered $20,000 to stay married to Lyn for two years.
Tangchaiwanna attended a second meeting with the agent, where Bradford offered the agent $20,000 to marry a woman named Nikki instead, prosecutors charged.
According to Bradford’s indictment, Tangchaiwanna told the agent that the payments were given in scheduled $5,000 installments — the first after the agent and Nikki wed, and the last when Nikki obtained a green card.
The Seattle Times reported that Bradford instructed the agent to “communicate with Nikki on a frequent basis to get to know her and prepare for the immigration interview.”
If convicted, Bradford could face a 5-year prison term on a conspiracy charge as well as 10 years on each count of document fraud — a potential of 35 years.
Tangchaiwanna could face a prison term of up to 5 years on charges of immigration fraud conspiracy. He is currently in custody of an immigration hold and may be deported.
The AP reported that Bradford’s indictment included a criminal forfeiture allegation. The government could seize any use of proceeds from the criminal activity involving the sham marriages.
Seattle spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Lorie Dankers says she could not discuss the immigration status of Bradford’s relatives.
Bradford’s husband, Michael, declined to comment to the Seattle Times on Tuesday. Along with his wife, he is co-owner of the Thai Ginger restaurants located at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle, Factoria, Redmond Town Center, and Madison Park. ♦
Vivian Luu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.