Thai Ginger owner accused in sham marriage scam

Thai Ginger owner accused in sham marriage scam »Play Video
Varee Bradford is seen outside the courthouse on Tuesday, June 23, 2009.
SEATTLE (AP) - The owner of a chain of popular Thai restaurants in the Seattle area has been indicted on charges she paid her workers tens of thousands of dollars to enter into sham marriages with her relatives, allowing them to stay in the U.S.

Varee Bradford, who operates five Thai Ginger restaurants in Seattle, Redmond, Issaquah and Bellevue, was arrested Tuesday on charges of immigration fraud conspiracy and three counts of immigration document fraud. She was released on personal recognizance Tuesday afternoon after making an initial appearance in U.S. District Court.

A grand jury indictment cites four marriages between Thai Ginger workers and Thai nationals, three of whom were Bradford's relatives. Bradford paid three of the workers $10,000 to more than $20,000, while another, who had recently been promoted to management, received a loan of $3,780, the indictment said.

Three of the workers were men and one was a woman. They were told the marriages would only have to last two years, until the Thai nationals received their green cards.

Also charged was Porramin Tangchaiwanna, who is accused of helping to set up a fifth marriage between an undercover immigration agent and a Thai woman last year. He remained in custody on an immigration hold and could face deportation.

A man who answered the phone at Thai Ginger's office said he would give Bradford's attorney a message from The Associated Press, but the message was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Bradford faces a maximum prison term of 5 years on the conspiracy charge and 10 years on each of the document fraud counts. Tangchaiwanna, also charged with immigration fraud conspiracy, faces up to 5 years.

The indictment includes a criminal forfeiture allegation, meaning the government is seeking to seize any property Bradford may have purchased with proceeds from criminal activity.

Lorie Dankers, a Seattle spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said she could not discuss the immigration status of any of Bradford's relatives.