Peter Hicks married Josephine Acquah in late 2013. He’s from Massachusetts. She’s from Africa — and had arrived in the United States barely three weeks earlier.

Four months after the wedding, he filed an I-130 petition, the first step in helping a relative become a permanent legal resident of the United States.

The petition was denied. Federal officials say that when he married Acquah, he was still married to another woman. In fact, according to a federal complaint, Hicks had married a total of six women since 2003. Grace Muiru on Feb. 26, 2003. Lucy Macharia on June 12, 2007. Nafisah Abdul Salam on Jan. 2, 2008. Angela Chambe on April 29, 2009. Nancy Waweru on Nov. 15, 2010. And Acquah on Dec. 16, 2013. All of the women are from sub-Saharan Africa, and all of whom Hicks married to illegally bypass immigration laws, federal officials say.

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A criminal complaint unsealed this week says that Hicks had for years been paid to marry undocumented African women so they could establish legal status in the United States and to find other Americans willing to do the same. Investigators also believe that Hicks sought immigration benefits for four of his six wives.

The 58-year-old resident of Worcester, Mass., has been charged with marriage fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts announced Tuesday. His attorney was not available for comment Thursday.

Hicks seemed to have first raised suspicions on May 20, 2009, when he met with an official with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, for a routine interview as part of his application for benefits for a foreign spouse. By then, he had married four women; one of whom, Chambe, was married to him less than a month earlier. But at that time, Hicks was applying for benefits for another woman, Abdul Salam, whom he married about a year and a half earlier.

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During the interview, Hicks admitted that he married the women solely to help them obtain legal status and that he had been paid to recruit other people for fraudulent marriages, the complaint says.

Hicks would marry two more women before Homeland Security Investigations, the Department of Homeland Security’s investigative arm, was alerted in 2014. When investigators showed up at his home later that year, Hicks told them that he had found God and wanted to “set the record straight,” the complaint says. He had been involved in fraudulent marriages for 13 years, he told investigators, and that two men, who were not named in court records, arranged those unions.

Investigators went to Hicks’s home again in early 2015. He showed them a collection of photographs of U.S. citizens with their foreign spouses and told investigators that all of those marriages were fraudulent, the complaint says.

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Neither the complaint nor a statement released Tuesday explained why Hicks was charged only recently, even though immigration officials had known about him since at least 2009. It also was not clear who paid Hicks, where those men were from, where the women are now, or if the other Americans in the photographs Hicks showed investigators would face charges.

A spokeswoman for USCIS referred questions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, where another spokeswoman said she could not say anything more than what’s in the complaint.

Marrying a U.S. citizen is a fast way to obtain legal status in the country and provides one of the shortest pathways to citizenship. Marriage solely to circumvent immigration laws is punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

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