By all accounts, the marriage ceremony of Fernanda Romero and Kent Ross was a modest affair, but federal prosecutors are seeking to prove it was also a crime.
Romero, a Mexican-born singer, actress and model who has achieved moderate fame in her homeland, and Ross, a musician and manager of a pizza delivery business, go on trial beginning Tuesday (Aug. 24). Each faces charges of marriage fraud and making false statements that could send them to federal prison for up to five years.
Prosecutors allege that since their nuptials in June 2005 the pair have maintained separate homes, dated other people and repeatedly lied on immigration forms and to federal agents about their relationship. They staged photographs showing them together, yet when agents visited both of their homes in October 2007, neither Romero or Ross had any photos of each other on display, according to a criminal complaint.
Defense attorneys for the pair wrote in a court filing last week that prosecutors won't be able to prove that Romero and Ross weren't in love when they got married and that they wed only to skirt immigration laws.
Marriage fraud cases are often handled in administrative immigration proceedings, but a prosecutor said prosecutors decided to pursue criminal charges against Romero and Ross because there was overwhelming evidence the marriage was fake. "We have lying over a two-and-a-half year period," said James Left, a special assistant U.S. attorney handling the case.
Romero was a member of the Mexican pop group Fryzzby and had a bit role in the 2009 film "Drag Me to Hell." She has been living in the United States off-and-on for a decade.
The government claims Ross was paid to marry Romero so she could obtain permanent residency in the United States, a claim attorneys for both deny.
"This is a case of two young people, in love but naive to the complexities of marriage," Romero and Ross' attorneys wrote in a trial brief filed last week.
"The two young newlyweds traveled down separate paths that at times, throughout their five years of marriage, left them separated both geographically and emotionally. They always, however, have found themselves back together and forever in love."
The defense attorneys claim that much of the government's case is based on statements by fashion photographer Markus Klinko, who dated Romero after she married Ross.
Their attorneys contend the government's case is flawed by its reliance on Klinko, who they portray in a case summary as a jilted lover who "over time became obsessed with Romero." He conducted a private investigation into her marriage that served as the basis for the criminal charges, Romero and Ross' attorneys wrote in a court filing last week.
"There are a lot of aspects of this case that don't involve Markus Klinko," Left said.
Allegations that the pair married to secure Romero U.S. residency were first included by Klinko in an unrelated civil lawsuit in New York.
A phone message left for a representative of Klinko was not returned Monday (Aug. 23).
Prosecutors have listed 14 other witnesses, including a woman who briefly rented an apartment from Romero. Also expected to testify is photographer Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri, who stars alongside Klinko in the Bravo reality series "Double Exposure."
In the criminal complaint charging the pair, a senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent detailed numerous interviews with roommates and associates of Romero and Ross, including his mother, who said they didn't know they were married.
The trial is expected to last four days