WRAL Investigates

Soldiers' jobs put Russian wives under investigation

Posted October 7, 2009 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2009 7:01 p.m. EDT

— Tatyana Urazova’s MySpace page is full of American experiences – visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, seeing Las Vegas and spending nights on the town.

However, federal agents say the 25-year-old from Kazakhstan is part of a web of Russian women who had fraudulent marriages with Fort Bragg soldiers so they could get U.S. citizenship.

The benefit for the soldiers, agents said, is that they could move off post and get extra money in their paychecks for being married.

A rigged marriage is a significant crime, according to immigration officials, especially when it deals with soldiers and the potential for a threat to national security.

“We would take a similar look at nuclear power plants, airports – where they staff employees in those critical areas. We have to take a look. We can’t be wrong,” said Tom O’Connell, an agent in charge at the Raleigh office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

While there's no evidence that the women were after national secrets, the Army is out some cash. Extra pay and benefits for three soldiers who are accused of marrying Russian women amounted to at least $200,000 over several years, according to prosecutors.

In 2005, Urazova married Stephen Schneider, who was a 19-year-old Fort Bragg soldier at the time, according to court records.

Urazova pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. She was being held in the Edgecombe County jail and will likely be deported after her sentencing, according to her attorney, Woody Webb.

In June, when charges were filed in the case, immigration officials pulled her off a plane bound for Vienna, Austria, at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

“She knows what she did was wrong, and she knows that she’s got to pay the consequences,” Webb said. ”She is here and wanted to make a life better for herself than in her home country.”

Schneider, who is no longer in the Army, pleaded guilty in federal court in Greenville on Tuesday to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud.

Authorities said Schneider and another man, Sgt. Wesly Farris, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, married Russian women after meeting them through brothers Alexander "Sasha" Manin and Pavel "Pasha" Manin.

The brothers collected fees of $3,000 to $5,000 from the women for arranging the marriages, according to an indictment.

Farris was 19 when he married Svetlana Kaloshina, court records showed. He pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. She pleaded guilty in August to making a false statement on an immigration application and was out on bond awaiting sentencing.

A third woman charged in the case, Anya Ivanova, is a fugitive, and authorities said they believe she is in Canada.

Ivanova was in a fraudulent marriage with a third Fort Bragg soldier, Jason Hawk, who was convicted at court martial in February. Hawk was demoted from sergeant to private, fined $20,000 and confined to jail on post for four months. He was discharged from the Army after finishing his sentence.

The Manin brothers are scheduled to have hearings in federal court next week.