PORTLAND – A Ugandan man faces as much as five years in prison for arranging marriages between Maine residents and Africans who wanted to remain in this country after their visas expired.

Rashid Kakande, 37, who has been living in Lexington, Mass., was convicted Thursday of conspiring to defraud the U.S. government. In addition to the prison time, he faces a maximum fine of $250,000.

Testimony during his four-day trial in U.S. District Court showed that Kakande and people who worked with him arranged dozens of marriages, most of which were performed in Lewiston.

Photos were taken at each wedding, showing the smiling bride and groom, the woman wearing a white dress and holding flowers.

The photos were taken for couples to use in convincing immigration officials that each marriage was genuine, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Fisk Malone, the prosecutor, in concluding her case Thursday morning.

The U.S. citizens were paid $1,500 each to get married. They stood to collect a total of $5,000 if they followed up by meeting with lawyers and immigration officials to help portray their marriages as legitimate.

Foreign nationals who are married to U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for permanent residency in this country and, eventually, citizenship. Though the marriages that Kakande was convicted of arranging were legally binding, it is a federal crime for anyone to marry just to change their immigration status.

Kakande told investigators that he was paid $1,000 to $1,500 for arranging each marriage, Malone said. The government said the conspiracy ran from at least 2003 to 2007.

Kakande was implicated directly in nine weddings. Many of the people who were involved in those weddings, including several who testified during the trial, have pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy. They have not been sentenced.

Kakande’s attorney, Thomas Greco, said the witnesses in the case were not credible. Many, he said, had substance abuse problems, and because of their own criminal behavior were trying to impress the government by implicating his client.

But after three hours of deliberations, the jury of seven women and five men returned the guilty verdict. At least two female jurors appeared upset as the verdict was read, one dabbing tears from her eyes.

Beth Stickney, a lawyer with the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, said there are people who philosophically or politically feel that people who want to live and work in this country should be given that opportunity.

Before 1924, would-be immigrants needed only to get to this country and show that they were healthy. “Today, if you don’t fit into very select categories, you simply cannot emigrate” to the United States, she said.

Kakande’s conviction was the culmination of a 4½-year investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Agent Kenneth Cogan testified that he received a tip about a sham wedding in Maine. He found the marriage certificate and checked the names of people who signed the certificate as witnesses.

Cogan testified that he used that information as a road map to other sham marriages. One name was repeatedly involved, he said: Rashid Kakande.

People who had engaged in the weddings identified Kakande as the organizer.

A man who was accused of running a related conspiracy in Maine, James Mbugua, 49, is on the run, Malone said.

Kakande, who was married to a woman from Sanford from 1999 to 2003 — a marriage that was not alleged to be fraudulent — could be deported after his release.

He was free on bail and employed before his trial. After the jury’s guilty verdict, District Judge John A. Woodcock ordered Kakande held until sentencing this summer, or until he can convince the court that he isn’t a flight risk.

As a federal officer ordered him to remove his necktie and belt, handcuffed his hands behind his back and led him away, his current wife broke down sobbing, collapsing to the floor.

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

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