A VICAR was yesterday found guilty of conducting sham marriages to allow illegal immigrants to stay in Britain.
The Rev Alex Brown conducted the “massive and cynical scam” over a four-year period which involved hard-up Eastern Europeans being paid up to £3,000 to marry Africans.
The 61-year-old conducted 383 marriages at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, between July 2005 and July 2009.
Prosecutors believe the vast majority were shams.
Following a seven-week trial at Lewes Crown Court, jurors found him guilty of conspiring to facilitate the commission of breaches of immigration laws, along with co-defendants, Michael Adelasoye, 50, and Vladymyr Buchak, 33.
The gang were caught following an investigation by the UK Border Agency after caseworkers noticed the huge number of immigration applications involving people who had got married at the church.
The scam was described as the largest sham marriage racket ever prosecuted.
Detective Inspector Andy Cummins said the investigation was “unprecedented”, describing the three men as “happy to exploit and take advantage of other people’s desperation for their own ends”.
Jurors heard that Buchak, a Ukrainian national who had been living illegally in Britain since at least 2004, was responsible for “cajoling and persuading” the Eastern Europeans into the marriages of convenience.
He preyed on migrant workers living in the area by offering them cash to wed the Africans, mainly from Nigeria.
Although Buchak was the principal organiser of the operation, prosecutor David Walbank said there was no doubt that Brown must have been fully aware that the majority of the weddings he was conducting at the church were shams.
Investigators found documents Brown had doctored including the church’s electoral roll plus a second, altered copy, which he had filled out to hide the dramatic increase in weddings he was presiding over.
Photocopies of the marriage register at the church showed that 360 out of the 383 weddings involved Eastern Europeans marrying African nationals.
It was also apparent that of the hundreds of people who got married, they all seemed to live in the surrounding streets, with 90 couples registered as living in one road alone and 52 in another.
Judge Richard Hayward adjourned sentencing until September 6.
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