English vicar jailed for conducting sham marriages for immigrants
A Church of England vicar accused of conducting hundreds of sham marriages in order to help immigrants gain residency in Britain was Thursday jailed for four years for "conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration", dpa reported.
The Reverend Alex Brown, 61, had abused his position to marry "hundreds of desperate African men to hard-up Eastern European women in a massive and cynical scam," judge Richard Hayward told Lewes Crown Court in the southern county of Sussex.
Two of Brown's co-defendants, men of Ukrainian and Nigerian origin, were also each sentenced to four years in jail.
During the proceedings, Brown pleaded guilty to a charge of solemnizing marriage without the banns being duly published, but denied knowing that the marriages were shams.
While his motives for conducting the marriages remain unclear, he denied being "manipulated or controlled by anybody" or having derived financial gain.
The court heard that of the 383 weddings Brown conducted over four years at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in the seaside town of St Leonards, 360 were fake.
The number of weddings that took place at the church rocketed 30- fold between August 2001 and July, the court was told. But Brown attributed the vast growth in weddings at his church to "word of mouth."
Suspicion of him grew when typically English names on the marriage register were outnumbered by African and European names, the court heard.
Co-defendant Vladymyr Buchak, a 33-year-old Ukrainian, was found guilty of breaching immigration laws by paying East European migrants who were in Britain legally financial incentives to marry Africans, mainly from Nigeria.
Buchak, known as the "recruiter," had been responsible for "cajoling and persuading" people into marriages of convenience by paying them up to 3,000 pounds (4,600 dollars) to do so, the court heard.
Michael Adelasoye, a 50-year-old Nigerian-born pastor and solicitor, advised the African participants - many of whom he knew through his role as pastor at a nearby church - on legal points.
The men were caught after police investigated the bogus marriages last year. Documents found during a search of the church had been altered to conceal the dramatic rise in weddings, the court heard.
Investigation of the documents revealed that the hundreds of people who had gotten married all appeared to live in the surrounding area of the church, with 90 couples registered as living in one road alone and 52 in another.
In some instances, there were several brides and grooms claiming to live in the same house. Jurors were told that most of those involved had given false addresses.
The prosecution argued that Brown could not possibly have believed that all the foreign nationals involved lived within his parish.