Riverside, California - Three people with family connections to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the perpetrators of the Dec. 2, 2015, terrorist attack at the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center (IRC), were arrested Thursday morning on federal conspiracy, marriage fraud and false statement charges.
A five-count indictment returned Wednesday by a federal grand jury charges the three in a marriage fraud conspiracy that involved making false statements under oath for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits for one of the defendants. The charges are the result of the ongoing probe by the multiagency, FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), which includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The three defendants arrested Thursday are:
- Mariya Chernykh, 26, of Ontario, who, according to official records, is married to Enrique Marquez, Jr. Marquez is awaiting trial on charges of conspiring with Syed Rizwan Farook in 2011 and 2012 to provide material support to terrorists;
- Tatiana Farook, 31, of Corona, Chernykh’s sister; and
- Syed Raheel Farook, 31, of Corona, Tatiana Farook’s husband and Syed Rizwan Farook’s brother.
The indictment charges all three defendants in a conspiracy to knowingly make a false statement under oath with respect to a material fact in an application, affidavit, and other documents required by the immigration laws and regulations of the United States. This charge carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
The indictment also charges Chernykh with fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents; perjury; and two counts of making material false statements to federal agents. These four charges carry a combined statutory maximum sentence of 25 years in federal prison.
When Marquez was indicted by a federal grand jury at the end of 2015 for conspiring with Syed Rizwan Farook to provide material support to terrorists, he was also charged with entering into a sham marriage with Chernykh in November 2014, and illegally signing an immigration form that falsely declared he was living with her.
“This is the latest step in the comprehensive investigation into the horrific attacks in San Bernardino last year that took the lives of 14 innocent Americans and deeply affected so many more,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “As I have said previously, we owe the victims, and the entire community of San Bernardino, a thorough investigation that uncovers all criminal activity surrounding these events. Today’s arrests open a new phase in the process of bringing to justice all individuals who allegedly committed crimes that were uncovered during our exhaustive investigation. The charges also reflect the importance we place on statements made to law enforcement officials during a terrorism investigation. Those who lie to or conceal material information from law enforcement officers investigating terrorist acts will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force worked around the clock in an attempt to find immediate answers in the days and weeks following the December murders in San Bernardino to ensure no additional threats to the community were present,” said James Struyk, acting assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “As proof of our enduring commitment to the victims and their families, the FBI and our partners will continue to pursue all leads developed in this matter to build cases when evidence of a crime is revealed.”
The case against Chernykh and the Farooks stems from the overall investigation into the IRC terrorist attack. While investigating the terrorist attack, federal agents obtained official records showing that Marquez, a former neighbor of Syed Rizwan Farook’s, is married to Chernykh. The investigation determined Marquez agreed to marry Chernykh so she could obtain immigration benefits that were not available to her because she is a Russian citizen and did not have legal status in the United States. The indictment alleges Marquez received money from Chernykh to enter into the sham marriage.
“Last year’s tragedy in San Bernardino showed yet again how our nation’s legal immigration system can be subverted and exploited by those intent on doing this country harm,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “As the second largest presence on the nation’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, HSI special agents, in collaboration with their JTTF partners, are using their unique skills and authorities, including their immigration expertise, to pursue individuals and organizations that pose a threat to domestic security. As this case underscores, that vigilance extends to those whose actions directly or indirectly put our communities and our country at risk.”
In furtherance of this conspiracy, both Marquez and Chernykh signed immigration documents, under penalty of perjury, that included information that they lived at the same address, when they did not.
Syed Raheel Farook and Tatiana Farook participated in the conspiracy by, among other things, witnessing Marquez and Chernykh’s wedding, taking staged family pictures of Marquez and Chernykh, establishing a joint checking account for Marquez and Chernykh, and creating a back-dated lease for Marquez and Chernykh to create the illusion that they shared a marital residence with Syed Raheel Farook and Tatiana Farook.
FBI agents interviewed Chernykh as part of the investigation into the IRC terrorist attacks, and she allegedly made false statements that she lived with Marquez at Syed Raheel Farook and Tatiana Farook’s residence in Corona.
All three defendants are expected to be arraigned on the indictment in U.S. District Court in Riverside Thursday afternoon.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.
In addition to the FBI and HSI, the following agencies are participating in the ongoing JTTF probe into the December terrorist attack – the San Bernardino Police Department, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, the Ontario Police Department, the Riverside Police Department, the Corona Police Department, and the Chino Police Department.