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23 indicted in Ky. marriage fraud plot

LOUISVILLE — A federal grand jury has indicted 23 people in what prosecutors called a conspiracy to set up sham marriages in exchange for cash, free vacations to Cambodia and sex, according to documents unsealed Tuesday.

The 10-count indictment, unsealed in U.S. District Court in Louisville, alleges a series of efforts to marry U.S. citizens to Cambodians, with the goal of obtaining citizenship for the foreign nationals.

Those indicted include Sharon Lee Spalding, 44, of Lexington and two Georgetown men: Justin Michael Martin, 25, and Donald McKinley Martin, 27.

An interpreter read the indictment to 12 people in federal court Tuesday afternoon during an initial court appearance for some of those indicted. None spoke during the presentation of the indictment, and court records did not list attorneys for those charged.

"Marriage fraud results in an illegal shortcut to U.S. citizenship and poses a concern to our national security," Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton said in a statement. "All of those involved in these false marriages will be held accountable."

The indictment spells out a scheme starting in January 2000 and lasting through April 2010 in which 12 U.S. citizens were recruited to marry Cambodians, allowing the foreign nationals to obtain visas to enter the United States and gain citizenship or permanent legal status.

In exchange for marrying the Cambodians, the U.S. citizens were paid $500 to $1,000, according to the indictment. At least one person received sex with two young Cambodian girls, while others were given discounted service at nail salons in Kentucky and southern Indiana, the indictment states.

In nearly every instance, the indictment states, a U.S. citizen flew to Cambodia, where pictures were taken during an engagement ceremony, at beaches and tourist attractions to give the appearance of an ongoing relationship.

Once the pictures were taken, immigration documents were completed and forwarded to the U.S. consulate, where they were processed. Four of the marriages were not completed, while others resulted in divorce within a few years.

All 23 people are charged with conspiracy, while others face charges of marriage fraud and fraud and misuse of visas.