Gang jailed for sham marriages across North West
Three men and four women have been jailed at Manchester Crown Court for operating a sham marriage industry.
Ringleader Vladimir Murko, 37, of Tonge Fold, Bolton, arranged 15 weddings in the North West for illegal immigrants from Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria.
The other gang members were jailed for between one year and four months and two years and two months.
The gang, originally from Slovakia and the Czech Republic, admitted conspiring to assist illegal immigration.
Murko and his friends and relatives acted as brides, grooms or witnesses to the proceedings, and many of the marriages were bigamous.
The immigrants paid £1,500 each for the weddings, so they could obtain a National Insurance number and stay in Britain.
The marriages took place at Church of England churches in Manchester, Stockport, Liverpool and London, and also at Bolton Register Office.
All the institutions were deceived by the defendants, who made false declarations they were free to marry and swore false affidavits on occasion.
Their activities were discovered by the UK Border Agency, working with the North West Immigration Crime Team and police, who raided a number of addresses in Bolton, Manchester and Liverpool in February.
Murko was sentenced to five years and two months in jail for conspiring to assist illegal immigration and for possessing a false identity document.
Judge Martin Steiger, sitting at Manchester Crown Court, said: "Not only did this conspiracy pose a risk to immigration control, it potentially posed a threat to security as well.
"I do not accept that he (Murko) was a hapless marionette being manipulated by an unseen puppet master.
"If it was up to me to decide, you would be deported to your home country and never allowed back."
Murko's partner Aneta Belova, 26, who lived with him at Stansfield Close, Tonge Fold, Bolton, was ordered to serve one year and four months for the conspiracy charge, with 12 months for bigamy, to run concurrently.
The women, Monica Lakatosova, 30, of Charlesworth Avenue, Great Lever, Bolton; Petra Cinova, 26, of Galloway Street, Liverpool; and Nela Ginova, 23, of Church Avenue, Daubhill, Bolton, all received the same sentences as Belova.
Vladimir Murko's brother Roman Murko, 32, of Church Avenue, Daubhill, Bolton, was given two years and two months for the conspiracy charge, with 15 months extra for bigamy, to run concurrently.
Pavel More 43, of Southfield Street, Burnden, Bolton was given two years and two months for conspiracy to assist illegal immigration.
Adrian Dugdale, from the Greater Manchester Crown Prosecution Service, said the group knew exactly what they were doing and that it was "unlawful".
He said: "We hope that these convictions will act as a warning to those unscrupulous enough to take advantage of people's desperation to remain in the UK."