Ex-Officer Convicted for Immigration Sham Marriage Scam

sham marriage

Katherine De Leon Evaristo, 39, an ex-US Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations officer, was sentenced Sept. 16, 2022, in US District Court in Seattle for immigration fraud. US Customs and Border Protection photo.

US Customs and Border Protection photo.

While serving as a Customs and Border Protection officer responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws, Katherine de Leon Evaristo posed as a wife in a sham marriage to help a Filipino man score a green card.

On Friday, Sept. 16, in Seattle, US District Judge Richard A. Jones sentenced the 39-year-old woman to two years of probation for conspiring to commit immigration fraud. He also ordered her to forfeit $8,500 in proceeds from bribes she received for the bogus marriage and directed her to receive therapy for her diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.

A Burien resident originally from the Philippines, Evaristo had faced up to five years behind bars and a $250,000 fine, but a plea deal she inked with federal prosecutors on May 6 capped her sentence at only two years of supervised probation.

Authorities also tossed out a charge for providing false information on an immigration form.

In a prepared statement released in the wake of her sentencing, Paul Crawford, the special agent in charge of Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility in Seattle, said Evaristo’s conviction showed the government’s commitment “to identifying and mitigating threats.”

sham marriage

The largest component of Customs and Border Protection, the Office of Field Operations handles customs duties at 20 offices, 328 ports of entry, and 16 pre-clearance stations overseas. Its ranks include more than 22,000 federal law enforcement officers and agriculture specialists. Customs and Border Protection photo.

Customs and Border Protection photo.

Neither Evaristo nor her attorney responded to Coffee or Die Magazine’s requests for comment.

Court records reveal she’s already paid $1,000 of her fine, despite filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection on Feb. 9 with $78,407 in debt, mostly tied to credit card and online shopping bills. Federal filings say a key motive for her taking the bribes stemmed from a shopping addiction.

After a childhood marked with abuse, Evaristo migrated to the US in 2004 and became a model citizen, according to federal filings.

She enlisted in the California Air National Guard and later served as a law enforcement officer for the Transportation Security Agency, US Border Patrol, and US Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations.

Sham marriage

The largest component of Customs and Border Protection, the Office of Field Operations handles customs duties at 20 offices, 328 ports of entry, and 16 pre-clearance stations overseas. Its ranks include more than 22,000 federal law enforcement officers and agriculture specialists. Customs and Border Protection photo.

Customs and Border Protection photo.

Evaristo’s immigration fraud scheme began in late 2012, shortly after she returned to the Philippines to attend her brother’s funeral. A childhood friend of hers — identified only by the initials “I.M.” in court records — wanted to become a US citizen, and his cousin brokered a deal with Evaristo.

Although the cousin offered 1 million pesos — about $20,000 — it appears Evaristo only received $8,500 for her role in a scheme that would play out over nearly nine years.

I.M. arrived in the US in 2015 on a K-1 fiancé visa, and Evaristo wed him in San Diego weeks later. In 2017, the fake couple filed a petition that promised they didn’t marry to procure an immigration benefit. They continued the lie during a 2019 interview with immigration officials.

And they might’ve gotten away with it, had Evaristo not used her position as a Customs and Border Protection officer to make an unauthorized query in a federal law enforcement database to check on I.M.’s immigration status.

sham marriage

The largest component of Customs and Border Protection, the Office of Field Operations handles customs duties at 20 offices, 328 ports of entry, and 16 pre-clearance stations overseas. Its ranks include more than 22,000 federal law enforcement officers and agriculture specialists. Customs and Border Protection photo.

Customs and Border Protection photo.

That tipped off federal agents that something was wrong about the marriage. Her fellow federal officers told officials that she was dating another man. In mid-2021, she was interviewed by federal agents and confessed quickly to the scheme.

During the interrogation, she admitted that she and I.M. lived as roommates, not spouses. They slept in separate bedrooms and shared the bills and rent. He also had pledged to help fund in vitro fertilization treatments so she could have children.

Now a warehouse worker, Evaristo gave birth to twins in July. Her role as a single mother spurred her defense attorney and federal prosecutors to urge leniency with her criminal sentence. They also pointed to her PTSD and the stigma she felt as an older Filipina woman who wasn’t married in a joint pitch to the judge for mercy.

“Sending Evaristo to jail when she has two infant children at home is unnecessary; a two-year probationary sentence is sufficient to punish Evaristo and deter future criminal activity given the circumstances of her offense and her particular characteristics,” wrote Assistant US Attorney Lauren Watts Staniar in a memorandum to the judge.

The judge agreed.

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Carl came to Coffee or Die Magazine after stints at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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