LOS ANGELES — Three people closely tied to the couple responsible for the San Bernardino terror attack were arrested Thursday in an alleged marriage fraud scheme involving a pair of Russian sisters.
The accused include Syed Raheel Farook. His brother and sister-in-law, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, died in a shootout with police after killing 14 people and wounding 22 others on Dec. 2.
Also arrested Thursday were Syed Raheel Farook’s wife, Tatiana, and her sister, Mariya Chernykh. Prosecutors say Mariya’s marriage to Enrique Marquez Jr., the only person charged in the shootings, was a sham designed to enable her to obtain legal status in the U.S. after overstaying her visitor visa in 2009.
Marquez confessed to the green card scheme when authorities questioned him about the shootings, and acknowledged getting $200 a month to marry Chernykh, according to his criminal complaint, filed in December.
According to an indictment unsealed Thursday, bank statements show that Chernykh was making $200 deposits into a joint bank account.
Marquez remains the only person charged in connection with the terror attack. He’s charged with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists by buying the assault rifles used in the massacre, making false statements about when he bought the weapons, and conspiring with Syed Rizwan Farook on a pair of previously planned attacks that were never carried out.
The Farooks and Chernykh were expected to be arraigned Thursday in federal court in Riverside. Attorneys representing them did not return calls seeking comment.
If convicted of conspiracy to make false statements on federal immigration documents, they could get up to five years in prison. Chernykh also is charged with fraud, misuse of visas and other documents, perjury and two counts of making material false statements to federal charges, which could mean up to 25 years in prison.
The indictment says Syed Raheel and Tatiana Farook participated in the sham by acting as witnesses to the union of her sister and Marquez, and by creating a joint checking account along with a backdated lease to make it appear as if all four of them lived together.
Tatiana Farook also accompanied her sister to buy a $50 wedding ring, and Marquez and Chernykh posed in photographs that were staged to make the marriage appear real, prosecutors said.
All the while, Marquez was living with his mother next door to the house where the Farook brothers grew up, and Chernykh was living in a different city with her boyfriend, also the father of her child, according to the criminal complaint against Marquez.
Syed Raheel Farook, the shooter’s older brother, earned two medals for fighting global terrorism for serving in the Navy from 2003 to 2007. In February, FBI agents spent hours searching his home in the Southern California city of Corona, carting out armloads of thick manila envelopes, a computer tower and an unidentifiable object so heavy it took two men to carry. That search warrant was sealed, and it wasn’t immediately clear if it was connected to Thursday’s arrests.
Syed Rizwan Farook was a county health inspector who targeted his co-workers at an annual training session in what became the deadliest terror strike on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
The FBI still has not found a hard drive from Farook’s computer, despite having divers spend days searching a lake along the couple’s escape route, and has yet to figure out what they did for 18 minutes following the shooting, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said Thursday.
Federal authorities also have not publicly revealed whether they gleaned any useful information from his iPhone, which was hacked into at the government’s request, rendering moot a legal battle over Apple’s refusal to unlock it for investigators.
The FBI has not ruled out that someone other than the dead couple knew about or helped plan the attack.
“Those questions are still lingering,” Eimiller said. “Did they have help? Did they have some support of any form? This is very much a continuing investigation and will be for some time.”
Syed Rizwan Farook’s family maintains they had no inkling about the plot. His mother, Rafia Farook, lived with him, Tashfeen Malik, and their newborn daughter in a townhome near San Bernardino. She said she never saw anything to suggest her son and daughter-in-law were planning a massacre.
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