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Wednesday, 08 November 2017 14:56

FBI investigation of Cherokee BIA official extends beyond marriage fraud

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The FBI’s investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Cherokee Agency’s deputy superintendent Ruth Marie Sequoyah McCoy goes far deeper than the charges of marriage fraud that she and 11 others are currently facing, according to recently filed court documents.

“As the Defendant (McCoy) is well aware, the United States is investigating the Defendant in connection with charges that go beyond what the Grand Jury alleges in the present indictment,” reads a document that Assistant United States Attorney Daniel Bradley filed Oct. 30. “The Defendant knew that to be true well before the Grand Jury indicted this case, and in fact knew the nature and scope of the Government’s broader investigation of her while the particulars of this case were still being nailed down.”

The document doesn’t provide any further details as to what that broader investigation entails, and a call to Bradley yielded a reply from a spokesperson stating that the government is unable to provide any information beyond what exists in publicly available documents. However, the statement as to the existence of a broader investigation is the first time that rumor to that effect has been confirmed in an official, public document.

According to a June 7 indictment, McCoy, 57, of Cherokee, would work with Golan Perez, 38, of Cherokee, and Ofir Marsiano, 41, of Pigeon Forge, to connect U.S. citizens with non-citizens who hoped that marriage to a U.S. citizen would improve their immigration status. In some cases, McCoy or her husband Timothy Taylor, 41, of Cherokee, would allegedly act as sponsors for the non-citizens, in exchange for a fee, and the citizens who participated in the marriages would get paid as well.

Once they’d been paired up, the indictment alleges, the participants would travel to Sevier County, Tennessee, to perform the marriage ceremony. In most cases, the non-citizens would then apply for adjustments to their immigration status, using the marriage to bolster their case.

McCoy and Perez currently face one count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and three counts of marriage fraud violation. Taylor was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and one count of marriage fraud. Marsiano was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and four counts of marriage fraud.

The case also involves eight other people — four who are U.S. citizens and four who are not — each of whom were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and one count of marriage fraud. In these cases, the defendants who are U.S. citizens allegedly entered into marriages with the defendants who were not U.S. citizens — not for love, but rather to help the non-citizens improve their immigration standing. The U.S. citizens were paid for participating in the marriages and knew about other fraudulent marriages that were occurring.

The four non-citizens charged in the case were never arrested. However, all four of the U.S. citizens charged with entering into these fraudulent marriages — Jordan Littlejohn, Kaila Cucumber, Jessica Gonzalez and Kevin Swayney — have pled guilty to the charge of marriage fraud. While the specific plea agreements are not public, the Oct. 30 court document shows that at least some of these plea agreements included cooperation provisions, meaning that these former defendants are now witnesses in the case.

Debriefs of these defendants-turned-cooperators have turned up additional evidence, the document states. For example, Littlejohn’s statement alerted investigators for the first time to the existence of nearly nine hours of phone calls that McCoy’s son Kallup McCoy made from the Swain County Jail to his mother and to Littlejohn, with whom he was in a relationship at the time.

“The Discovery Agreement executed by the Defendant (McCoy) explicitly provides that the Government’s investigation is ongoing, and that the Government expects the investigation to produce additional discovery,” it states.

The document in which this new information is contained is a response to McCoy’s motion to continue the trial from the scheduled Nov. 6 date. McCoy’s motion, filed Oct. 23, stated that her defense required more time to review a large amount of recently produced evidence and that some documents her defense had requested from the government had not yet been delivered.

In his response, Bradley wrote that the government has no problem with continuing the trial but that McCoy’s motion had mischaracterized the government’s response to the defense’s requests.

For instance, Bradley’s motion reads, the defense had first asked for documents related to the Cherokee Indian Police Department’s and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ cooperation with the FBI just six days before filing its motion to continue. In regard to the nine hours of jail phone calls, it would have been impossible for the government to provide that discovery sooner than it did because that evidence was only recently gathered, the result of interviews with Littlejohn following her plea agreement.

“The United States cannot possibly produce 302s of cooperator debriefs to defense counsel before those debriefs take place, and the United States does not get to choose when a defendant decides to plead guilty and turn witness,” Bradley’s response reads.

Further, the document states, the government is not going to produce all the documents that McCoy’s defense is asking for, because some of those documents don’t relate to the marriage fraud investigation — instead, they pertain to the larger investigation being conducted against McCoy that has not yet resulted in official charges.

“The United States is working to collect and produce the materials requested by the Defendant (McCoy), but that production will not be complete before the present trial setting, and it will require some ongoing discussion as to what is and is not within the scope of the Defendant’s requests,” the motion reads.

In an order filed Nov. 3, the court did grant the defendants’ motions to continue the trial, which will likely include the cases of McCoy, Perez, Taylor and Marsiano. Littlejohn, Cucumber and Gonzalez have all had guilty pleas accepted by the court. Swayney’s guilty plea has not yet been accepted, but he has filed a notice of intent to change his plea to guilty, as well as a factual basis for that plea. In his case, postponing the trial date would allow him to continue working out the particulars of the plea deal.

While the case was continued from Nov. 6, as of press time no new date had been set.

McCoy’s attorney Sean Devereux did not reply to a request for comment.

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