Sham marriage fixer who sourced brides at her children’s school gates was jailed in her absence yesterday after she went on the run.
Polish Andzelina Surmaj failed to appear for sentencing after admitting matching hard-up EU national mums with illegal immigrant men desperate to stay in Britain.
Surmaj and Czech sidekick Milan Cina, both from Bradford, made about £26,000 from six marriages in East Lancashire and Manchester between 2008 and 2009.
Both acted as brokers, charging illegal immigrants thousands of pounds to arrange bogus weddings to EU nationals so they could stay in the UK.
It is thought they could have been involved in around 40 bogus ceremonies in all.
Surmaj, 30, targeted fellow eastern European brides desperate for money she met at the gates of Whetley Primary School in Bradford where her children were pupils.
The scam involved already married women getting wed, with inter-changeable brides and witnesses, some already related, at multiple weddings and likened to “the plot of a bad soap opera” by one immigration official.
Photos had to be taken to support their Home Office applications to stay in the UK on the grounds of marriage – the pictures revealing the fake smiles and cringing hugs as complete strangers from eastern Europe and western Africa tied the knot.
But Surmaj and Cina themselves acted as witnesses to some weddings – and were caught on camera lurking in the background at several ceremonies.
Passing sentence, Judge Beverley Lunt said: “It is clear from the evidence in this case, this was a well organised commercial enterprise designed to defeat the immigration laws of this country.
“You were both responsible for arranging multiple sham marriages in return for substantial sums of money, being paid by Nigerian men, some of that money was then paid on to the Czech women who were persuaded to take part in these sham marriages.”
Surmaj, formerly of Girlington Road, Bradford, West Yorkshire, admitted assisting unlawful immigration by organising four bogus weddings.
Unmarried Surmaj, who has been in the UK for 12 years, also admitted giving a false address at a sham wedding where she was the bride at St Peter’s Church in Newbold, Rochdale, and possessing a fake Czech Republic ID card.
Cina, formerly of Lister Gardens, Bradford, admitted assisting unlawful immigration by jointly organising the four sham weddings with Surmaj and also pleaded guilty to acting as a witness at another ceremony.
A warrant was issued for the arrest of Surmaj.
Concerns were first raised by local clergy at two churches, St Peter’s and St Andrew’s, both in Accrington, east Lancashire in late 2009.
But once Surmaj and Cina felt the vicar was becoming suspicious they moved churches, also targeting All Saints in Clayton-le-Moors in Lancs and St Peter’s in Levenshulme, Manchester.
A “routine check” by the UK Border Agency on one suspect wedding soon uncovered an “unusual demographic pattern” of weddings in the Accrington area between west Africans marrying eastern Europeans.
Further inquiries revealed there were 44 “marriages of doubt” – with investigations still on-going.
Up to now, 18 of those weddings have been investigated and 36 individuals charged with 86 separate offences.
Border Agency investigations led them to Surmaj and Cina as the “fixers”.
The pair promised the brides, normally the EU nationals, between one and two thousand pounds, with the illegals charged up to £4,500.
The scam netted the pair around £26,000 from just six weddings alone.
Surmaj recruited Alena Kurejova, who was already legally married, and Ingrid Gulasova at the school gates, both vulnerable, unemployed women with children to feed and very little money.
But after the weddings took place the “brides” all had trouble actually getting their cash off the pair and eventually received hundreds, rather than thousands of pounds – which encouraged them to talk to Border Agency investigators.
Surmaj, an unemployed single mother, claiming for her four children, aged from 15 to 12 months, who lived in a detached three-bedroom bungalow she rented in Bradford, was arrested in March 2011.
It is thought she first claimed political asylum to come to the UK around 12 years ago because of her gypsy status – as did Cina, who used three different identities in the UK, according to the Border Agency.
He claimed he felt sorry for desperate Nigerians because of the poverty in their homeland – but this was dismissed as “nonsense” by the judge.
Outside court, UK Border Agency investigator Kelly Rosenthal said: “I do believe we are scratching the surface with these two. I don’t believe this is where their criminality ends. We uncovered other documents, in other eastern European names, the types that would be needed to send to the Home Office. I don’t believe the offending stops here.”
Of those who took part in the sham weddings and already dealt with by the courts, all have received jail sentences, some suspended, ranging from 12 months to two and a half years with recommendations some are deported when they have served their sentences.
Immigration Minister Damian Green said: “Today’s sentencing sends a clear message to anyone considering breaking our immigration laws that Britain is no longer a soft touch.
“These organisers have systematically abused the immigration system and placed a huge pressure on the public purse at a time when the country can least afford it.
“Our message could not be clearer – we will not tolerate immigration abuse and offenders will be caught.”
Dave Magrath, Head of the UK Border Agency Criminal and Financial Immigration (CFI) Team in the North West, said: “This case shows the desperate nature of immigration crime with large sums of money changing hands and people being prepared to enter into a full marriage with someone they barely know simply to cheat the immigration system.
“The UK Border Agency is working closely with the Church and registrars to identify marriages that may not be genuine. We do not expect vicars or registrars to be experts in immigration law or spotting forged documents – that’s our job.
“But if they have any suspicions about whether a relationship is genuine, we would urge them to get in touch with us or contact Crimestoppers: 0800 555 111. Source: Daily Mirror.
Last week a bogus Polish bride and her groom were led down the aisle in handcuffs after Border Agency officers swooped on their sham marriage.
EEA rules make EU brides a more attractive proposition for non-EU immigrants using the back door into UK Naturalisation.
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