The Seattle Times online reported Wednesday that Varee Bradford, 43, who operated five Thai Ginger restaurants in Seattle pleaded not guilty and was ordered released pending trial after appearing in US District Court in Seattle.
The owner of a local chain of popular Thai restaurants pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of paying employees thousands of dollars to enter into "sham marriages" with her relatives from Thailand so they could stay in the United States.
Varee was arrested at her Issaquah home early Tuesday after a grand-jury indictment was unsealed charging her with four counts, including immigration-document fraud and conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. The charges carry a potential prison sentence of 35 years, prosecutors said.
The online reported that also named in the indictment is Thai Ginger employee Porramin Tangchaiwanna, 32, also known as "Golf." He is charged with assisting Bradford in arranging a sham marriage with a man who turned out to be an undercover immigration agent.
Porramin was ordered held pending trial because of questions about his immigration status.
Both Varee's attorney and her husband, Michael, the co-owner of the restaurants, declined to comment as they left the courtroom.
Varee had been under investigation for about three years after U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) received a tip about her alleged scheme, said a spokeswoman, Lorie Dankers.
The charging documents specified four marriages that Bradford arranged between her employees who are U.S. citizens and Thai relatives between 2001 and 2007.
Both male and female employees were offered US$10,000 to US$20,000 to marry the Thai immigrants to make it easier for them to obtain permanent resident "green cards" and stay in the country, according to the charges.