BANGOR, Maine — A federal jury of seven women and five men Thursday found a Kenyan woman guilty of entering into a sham marriage and falsely claiming she had been abused so she could remain in the U.S. and eventually become a citizen.
Margaret Kimani, 30, of Springfield, Mass., was convicted of one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
The jury deliberated for about 40 minutes after 2½ days of testimony in U.S. District Court in Bangor. The trial, scheduled to start Monday, was delayed a day because of the weekend snowstorm.
Kimani married a Maine man in Lewiston on Dec. 30, 2003, nearly two years after her visitor’s visa expired Feb. 3, 2002, in order to gain U.S. citizenship more easily, according to court documents.
She was indicted by a federal grand jury in August 2012 but was not arrested until 13 months later when she returned from a visit to her native Kenya. She has been held without bail since her arrest Sep. 5, 2013, at JFK International Airport in New York City.
Kimani is one of nearly 30 African and American citizens who have been charged in federal court in Maine in connection with the scheme hatched by Rashid Kakande, 40, of Lexington, Mass., and James Mbugua, 52, of Springfield, Mass., according to court documents. The men had family connections in Lewiston.
Kakande was sentenced in June 2011 to two years in prison after being convicted of the same crime of which Kimani is accused. He also was ordered to pay a $20,000 fine. Kakande was released in August 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ Inmate Locator website. He was expected to be deported.
Mbugua, who arranged Kimani’s marriage, disappeared in 2010 before he could be tried and is listed as a fugitive on the court’s electronic case filing system.
The man Kimani married but never lived with, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, has not been charged, so he is not being named by the Bangor Daily News. Kimani’s husband was drawn into the scheme by a friend who also lived in Lewiston.
Although Kimani’s husband provided her and Mbugua with identification documents, tax forms, passport photos, a birth certificate and signed documents on her behalf, he was never interviewed by immigration officials, according to the trial brief. In July 2006, Kimani filed documents under the Violence Against Women Act in which she falsely claimed her husband had been physically, sexually and emotionally abusive.
The act permits “a lawfully admitted alien who has been subjected to abuse by her U.S. citizen spouse to petition for permanent residence in the United States without the knowledge or approval of the U.S. citizen spouse,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Malone, who is prosecuting Kimani, said in her trial brief.
Kimani was awarded lawful permanent residency in March 2010 based on the false information, according to the prosecutor.
She still is legally married in Maine but did not really understand that what she was doing was illegal, her attorney Zachary Brandmeir said in his closing argument.
Her sentencing date has not been set. Kimani faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000, fine. She also could be deported.