PORTLAND — A Massachusetts man faces charges of conspiring to defraud the federal government by arranging numerous sham weddings between Mainers and people from Africa seeking to become legal residents of the United States.

Rashid Kakande, 37, appeared Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland for the opening of his trial before a federal jury. He is charged with arranging payments of up to $5,000 for women and men willing to marry people from Uganda and other African countries who were here on expiring tourist or student visas.

The ultimate goal of the marriages, according to the government, was to get permanent legal status and, eventually, citizenship. Most of the weddings were held in apartments in Lewiston.

The marriages themselves were worth $1,500, followed by additional payments as the U.S. recruits filled out paperwork to support the charade and met with immigration officials to convince them that the marriages were legitimate, according to court papers filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Fisk Malone, the prosecutor in the case.

Some recruits got cold feet after the wedding and backed out of the scheme when told by immigration officials that pretending to get married for immigration purposes is a federal crime.

After his arrest in July, Kakande told an officer for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement that on certain occasions he had been paid $1,500 to arrange the weddings, court papers said.

He allegedly has used the money to buy land in his native Uganda.

Kakande is described as overseeing a conspiracy that led to more than 15 arranged marriages from 2003 to 2007.

He was indicted in July along with another man, James Mbugua, 49, who was arrested in Springfield, Mass., on charges that he arranged several marriages between Mainers and Africans for immigration reasons. Mbugua has yet to go to trial.

Both men face up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Many of those involved in the marriages also face charges of conspiracy to defraud the government.

Defrauding the government can mean using deceit to thwart an agency’s efforts and doesn’t have to mean stealing money from it, the prosecution said.

Two women testified Monday that they married African men in exchange for money and did not live with them or have any intention of having a life with them.

In some cases, the Mainers met the men or women they were to marry on the day of the ceremony, then posed for pictures. They met on a few occasions afterward to fill out paperwork or meet with officials.

Kakande is currently free on an unsecured bond. His attorney, Thomas Greco, said his client has the presumption of innocence and the state must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. In cross-examining witnesses, his questions implied their testimony was born either of animosity or fear of prosecution.

Kakande’s connection to Maine stems from his ex-wife, Olivia Kakande, now of Sanford.

On Monday, Olivia Kakande told jurors that her own marriage was not arranged, and that the couple lived together and had a son.

She said she learned of the marriages when a woman arrived at the couple’s home in Waltham, Mass., in 2002 along with the African man she was to marry.

While she was helping the woman fix her hair and put on makeup for the ceremony, the woman told her that she was getting paid for the marriage.

Later, when the couple’s relationship deteriorated and Rashid Kakande started staying out late at night, she checked his cell phone and found several Maine telephone numbers on it, she said.

The state’s next witness was a woman from Mechanic Falls, Tina Bayne, 35, a mother of four who met Rashid Kakande through a mutual acquaintance in 2002. She was broke, she said, and agreed to marry a man named Emmanuel Musiitwa of Malden, Mass., in exchange for $1,500. A friend did the same with another man at the same time, Bayne said.

She testified that she was given additional payments later for filling out paperwork so that her name was on household bills, a savings account and a Massachusetts identification card. Musiitwa asked for her clothing sizes so he could get clothes for his apartment to make it appear she lived there.

Bayne balked at trying to convince immigration officials they really were married, so Musiitwa sought a divorce that would allow him to continue to pursue residency, she said. He filed a restraining order against her in 2003, describing “cruel and abusive treatment,” to which she did not object. He then cited the order when he sued for divorce, which was finalized in 2005.

Bayne also said she was paid to help recruit other U.S. citizens who would be willing to marry for money, including Keith Lowndes, the father of two of her children.

The next witness, Heather Dugas, 30, of Lewiston told the jury she was working as a convenience store clerk and having serious financial problems when she was told of the marriage scheme by Lowndes.

Dugas agreed to marry Simon Kihugu and followed through with all the required documents and meetings so that Kihugu got legal residency.

She received between $4,000 and $6,000 total, calling Kihugu when she had a bill, was behind on her rent or had car repairs that she needed help paying for, Dugas said. Once he secured his legal residency status, “my money was gone,” she said.

Kihugu sought a divorce in 2006, citing her “gender preference” as the reason. He explained that it was something the government could never prove was false, Dugas said.

Later, she was contacted by the IRS. An audit of the couple’s joint tax return showed a large tax liability, and since they couldn’t find Kihugu, she was responsible. She has since paid her portion of the liability, she said.

The state plans to call as witnesses several other men and women it says were involved in the scheme, wrapping up its case Wednesday. The trial is scheduled to run through Thursday.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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