Henry’s story is the second in our series exploring surveillance from the other side of the law -- from the people who got caught. He’s 38 years old and spent three years in federal prison for a marriage fraud scheme based in Chicago. Henry would help European immigrants find American suitors to marry. He set up the transactions from a rolodex of American’s looking to make money and a steady flow up immigrants looking to change their citizenship status. Both city surveillance and covert surveillance was used to build the case. Eighteen people were charged, but as the ringleader he was the only one to face prison time. The rest received probation.
For three years law enforcement monitored Henry's movements using both covert and city surveillance. He was arrested for doing 18 marriages, but he admits he’d done around 250 by the time he was caught.
The “business” started out by chance after helping a friend, Lena, find her mother an American man to marry. They realized their was some demand for this kind of thing and turned it into an enterprise. Lena would find Americans looking to make some money and Henry would help get the paperwork done.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says he arraigned marriages “between nine U.S. citizens and nine Eastern European foreign nationals [and] He admitted recruiting U.S. citizens by promising them $5,000 to enter into fraudulent marriages with foreign nationals.” The marriages allowed the immigrants to get permanent U.S. residence.
Henry says the immigrants would pay him to help them arrange the marriages. ICE says he would promise the American citizens $5,000 for their part in the scheme that he would pay in installments until the immigrant finally received a green card. He even participated in a fake marriage himself.
How He Got Caught
After authorities began investigating Lena’s mother’s marriage, she revealed the business she had with Henry and became an informant. While she was still bringing American "suitors," she was wearing a wire and helping the authorities set up surveillance.
“They had me. They had me on wiretap, they had me on camera downstairs in City Hall with people getting married, they have pictures of me and surveillance of me taking my kids to school,” he said. All of the footage was provided to his lawyer on DVD.
Surveillance video from city hall showed he visited at least 70 times one month. He says he had to go by once for the paperwork and again to watch the marriage officiated, so that would be about 35 weddings. During the weddings, Lena was often wearing a hidden camera.
“I was really shocked. When I looked back at the video, she was always asking me questions of things she basically knew already. She was asking questions she knew the answers to. She was trying to get me to reveal certain things like how many weddings I’d done ... You have a friend for five or six years that you think you can trust, but you can’t,” he said.
Henry says his lawyer tried to raise questions about discrepancies in the footage (the footage was edited together to show each recorded incident), but the prosecutors keyed in on the fact that because he wasn’t a government employee, he had no business to be at city hall so often.
“I was there multiple times a month. The camera showed that. I really couldn’t justify why I was there. And [Lena] telling on everything, that pretty much put the nail in the coffin,” he said.
Perception of Law Enforcement Surveillance
Henry still harbors some anger at the authorities and his accomplices. Citing being watched as he took his kids to school, he says he feels the federal authorities have no morals or respect for people’s families.
“The feds are scumbags. They’re liars. They’re worth just as much as the majority of criminals they put away ... They use their position of authority to get people to do things they wouldn’t normally do and they play off that and it’s not fair. It’s just being a bully. They use their power and surveillance not for good but for leverage."
The main reason Lena flipped on him, he says, is because she was told that she could get 20 years in prison for helping him, but the crime she was charged with only carried a year sentence. In the end she only got probation.
Henry says he was aware of cameras in the city and government buildings, but he never thought they would be used against him. He says he was especially surprised that they used hidden cameras to catch him. Even though he’s served his time, he says he is still careful around cameras and in conversation.
“Cameras are everywhere now. They even have speed cameras now. I’m just paranoid now. I don’t do anything wrong, but I’m leery of people too now. You see all this stuff on TV about people wearing wiretaps and hidden cameras in the buttons of their coats. It makes you think about things,” he said.
He insists that he really just wanted to help people. “All I did was help Europeans help find Americans who would marry them,” he said.