Two Czechs, four Nigerians and one Slovakian, involved an international marriage scam in West Yorkshire, have received jail sentences of 13 years (two years suspended) after pleading guilty at Leeds Crown Court.
Their convictions follow coordinated arrests earlier this summer across the north of England in an operation led by the UK Border Agency and supported by West Yorkshire Police.
Many of those arrested were apprehended heading for the West Yorkshire churches of St Philip and St James in Scholes and St Lukes in Cleckheaton, just hours before they were due to tie the knot.
The investigation began after the UK Border Agency received reports of a sudden spate of seemingly dodgy marriage applications.
The Immigration Crime Team, made up of Immigration enforcement officers and seconded police detectives, then stepped in and launched an investigation into a series of sham marriages, or 'marriages of convenience'.
A covert investigation unearthed Nigerian Adeola Orobiyi as a central figure in the conspiracy. He arranged transportation for bogus brides and grooms to see the Diocesan Registrar and meet other with clergy, and provided fake documents and false passports. Officers discovered a number of forged Nigerian and Eastern European passports and identity cards at his house, together with other incriminating documents.
On 20 July, around 80 officers from the UK Border Agency and West Yorkshire Police, swooped to halt sham weddings and arrest seven individuals in and around the Bradford and Manchester areas.
Regional Head of the UK Border Agency's Immigration Crime Team DCI Dave Powell led the investigation and said:
"This was a serious attempt to facilitate illegal entry into the UK for a number of individuals by a well organised criminal network. Once again we would send out the message to those who seek to engage in immigration-related crime, this team poses a major threat to crime groups and will continue to target them and bring them to justice. I am delighted with the results achieved."
The UK Border Agency's Regional Director for the North East, Yorkshire and The Humber, Jeremy Oppenheim added:
"I am very pleased with the sentences handed down. The regional Immigration Crime Team's successful operation should prove a clear deterrent to others thinking of perpetrating immigration crime here in the UK - we will not tolerate this type of abuse of our immigration system.
"Over recent years we have clamped down on sham marriages which is why suspected sham marriages have fallen from over 3,500 in 2004 to under 400 in 2008. Steps will be taken to remove all criminals convicted of immigration-related offences from the UK once they have served their sentences."