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Culture Investigations

Maryland Pastor Indicted in Marriage-for-Citizenship Scheme

A Maryland pastor is facing federal charges in connection with a scheme to fraudulently obtain permanent resident status for foreign nationals by arranging marriages to U.S. citizens.

The indictment, filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, alleges that Joshua Olatokunbo Shonubi, pastor of NewLife City in Hyattsville, took thousands of dollars from foreign nationals in exchange for arranging marriages, then recruited and groomed U.S. citizens as potential spouses, promising them money in exchange.

The U.S. citizens were expected to sponsor their new mates for citizenship through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

According to the seven-count indictment filed Oct. 20, the activities took place from at least January 2014 through January 2021.

The indictment alleges that Shonubi and co-conspirators submitted at least 60 application packets to USCIS seeking permanent residence status, each documenting a marriage between a U.S. citizen and a foreign national.

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Shonubi allegedly used his position with the church to recruit the U.S. participants, which included some economically disadvantaged citizens, the indictment said. He also allegedly officiated some of the fraudulent marriages and arranged for some civil marriage ceremonies to be performed in Virginia.

The indictment also says that Shonubi signed at least 38 reference letters on NewLife letterhead attesting to the romantic validity of the marriages and his role in providing the couples with spiritual guidance or counseling.

The U.S. District Attorney’s office said Shonubi also allegedly created false rental leases as proof that the couples were living together, when in fact, they were living separately. The leases listed a company he founded in 2015, Jayco, as the landlord.

The false lease documents also were submitted to USCIS as part of the application process, the indictment said.

If convicted, Shonubi faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit visa fraud and marriage fraud and a maximum of five years in federal prison for each of six counts of presenting false documents to a federal government agency.

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.