Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Neighbor says marriage fraud defendants never lived at apartment they claimed as home address

Rodney Eugene Hill ... accused marrying Nigerian woman so she could get green card.

MOBILE, Alabama – A Nigerian immigrant who lived at the apartment claimed as the home address of a couple charged with marriage fraud testified this afternoon that they never lived there.

Ahmed Awesu testified that he lived at Apartment M7 at Creekside Apartments in west Mobile from February 2008 to February 2009, the same period of time that defendants Rodney Eugene Hill and Florence Chigozie Nna claimed on immigration forms that they lived in the unit.

Federal prosecutors allege that Hill, an American and Nna, a Nigerinan, concocted a sham marriage and submitted fraudulent immigration forms so that she could get her green card.
Awesu testified that he knew Nna from Nigeria, where they both competed in track and field events, and from the University of South Alabama, where they won athletic scholarships. He told the jury that Nna lived in the same apartment complex but never in his unit. And he testified that he did not even know Hill.

That contradicts a sworn affidavit that he signed stating that he had known Hill for about two years, was aware of the relationship with Nna and that he attended their marriage ceremony in Mobile County Probate Court in 2008.

None of that was true, Awesu said today. He testified that Nna asked him to meet her at an insurance office and sign a recommendation letter for in front of a notary public. He said he did so but did not read the document. He told jurors that the handwriting on the letter was not his, except for the signature.

Clark Stankoski, Nna’s attorney, suggested during his cross-examination that Awesu changed his story when law enforcement officers showed up the day after Christmas last month asking about his own immigration status. Stankoski suggested Awesu was concerned he might be deported.

Awesu denied the insinuation.

“It had nothing to do with these immigration officers,” he said.

Awesu acknowledged under questioning from Stankoski that his wife spends much of her time away from home. He said she is a student in Montgomery and comes back home on the weekends. He also acknowledged that he lives with a roommate because he needed help paying expenses.

Stankoski asked how Nna would have received a letter that immigration authorities sent to Awesu’s apartment if she did not live there.

“I don’t know how she got the letter,” he said.

Prosecutors put on a pair of witnesses to bolster their allegations that the defendants fabricated documents to create the illusion of a joint life.

Maria Thompson, an official from Alabama Power, testified that the utility’s records show that Nna purchased electricity from Unit J3 at Creekside Apartments from June 2006 to June 2009. She said the utility had no record of her or Hill as a customer at Apartment M7.
She said power bills in their names at the apartment had missing information and a different type face than Alabama Power bills.

“Our bills have never looked like that,” she testified.

Patti Harrison, the property manager at Creekside Apartments, went through a long list of errors in a lease submitted to immigration authorities. They included misspelled words, words that did not appear in bold and other differences from a legitimate Creekside lease.

Harrison also testified that Nna lived at the apartment complex with her husband, Oluwagbenga Rotimi Awoleye, and their children. Awoleye pleaded guilty in November to a marriage fraud charge, admitting that he entered a sham union with an American woman in order to evade immigration laws.

The defense contends that Awoleye and Nna divorced and that she and Hill had a real marriage before Nna and Awoleye later reconciled.

Harrison and Thompson both acknowledged that regardless of the names that appeared on lease documents or utility bills, they could not say who was actually living in an apartment at any given time.

Jurors today saw pictures of Awoleye and Nna taken after their divorce, showing them in photos of families listed in programs printed as part of a Nigerian immigrant organization’s celebration that nation’s independence.

Timothy Erobu, who helped organize the group, testified that Awoleye and Nna were married, but he acknowledged under cross-examination that he did not know them prior to September 2008 and that they never explicitly said they were married. He agreed it is possible for some people with children to remain friends and do things together even after they have split up.
The trial resumes Thursday morning before U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade.
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