A federal jury in Portland last week convicted a Russian man who lived in the U.S. on a student visa without attending school, and falsely claimed to be living with an American woman so he could remain in the U.S.
The conviction came at the end of the first jury trial held in federal court in Portland since the courts limited in-person procedures in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first federal jury trial was held in August in Bangor.
Alexander “Sasha” Gormatov, 33, was convicted of conspiring to commit visa fraud, making false statements to a federal law enforcement agency and visa fraud, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. The conviction came on Thursday after a two-day trial.
Gormatov entered the U.S. on a student/work visa in 2009, and later switched to an academic student visa by attending Southern Maine Community College in 2010, according to court documents. His student visa status was valid through May 2013.
In 2011, he met a then 17-year-old female U.S. citizen through a Craigslist employment advertisement, newly sworn-in U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee said Saturday in announcing the verdict.
Just a few months later, when Raeanna Johnson turned 18, Gormatov paid her to marry him in his pursuit of remaining in the United States legally. He then quit school.
By November 2012, when he failed to re-enroll at the college, Gormatov was living in the country illegally. The following January, the sham couple made a series of false statements on immigration documents that Gormatov later filed seeking a formal adjustment to his immigration status.
The couple was interviewed in April 2013 by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in South Portland, during which the couple falsely claimed to be living as husband and wife, according to court documents. Based on the fraud, Gormatov obtained conditional lawful permanent resident status in the U.S.
In January 2014, Gormatov’s wife gave birth to a child she conceived with her actual live-in boyfriend, but Gormatov’s name was placed on the birth certificate. In March 2015, Gormatov filed a petition, accompanied by a copy of the child’s falsified birth certificate, to remove the conditions of his permanent residence.
Three years later, when Gormatov learned he was under investigation for visa fraud, he left Maine for Russia, according to court documents. He returned in May 2019, after falsely claiming paternity of Johnson’s child.
Gormatov and Johnson, now 27, of Naples, were arrested on Feb. 13, 2020. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and lying to government officials in October in U.S. District Court in Portland.
Johnson testified last week at Gormatov’s two-day trial, McElwee said. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 16. In her plea agreement, Johnson waived her right to appeal her sentence to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in Boston if it is six months in prison or less.
This case was the latest sham marriage prosecution in Maine. In May 2014, one of the country’s most sophisticated marriage fraud schemes officially ended when the 28th defendant was sentenced in Maine for being part of the fraudulent marriage conspiracy.
Gormatov faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy and false statement charges, and up to 10 years in prison on the visa fraud charge. He also faces a fine of up to $250,000 per count.
His sentencing date has not been set.
After serving his sentence, Gormatov is expected to be deported to Russia.
Correction: A previous version of this story said that this trial was the first in Maine since the courts limited in-person procedures in March 2020.