- Brother to Syed Rizwan Farook was arrested, along with his wife and sister, on charges of marriage fraud.
- The three are charged with helping in a fraudulent marriage between Chernykh and Enrique Marquez.
- Marquez had already been charged for aiding in the deadly attack.
- The FBI has been investigating the family since the attack.
Federal agents arrested three people, including the older brother of San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, on charges of marriage fraud, conspiracy and lying to federal investigators on Thursday morning, according to a criminal complaint.
Syed Raheel Farook, the brother of Syed Rizwan Farook; his wife, Tatiana Farook; and her sister Mariya Chernykh were arrested Thursday morning and charged in a five-count indictment filed in federal court that centers around a fraudulent marriage between Chernykh and Enrique Marquez, who has been charged with aiding in the deadly Dec. 2 attack at the Inland Regional Center.
Two people were arrested at Raheel Farook’s home after the FBI conducted a search warrant Thursday morning, according to Sgt. Paul Mercado, a spokesman for the Corona Police Department. A second search warrant was served at Chernykh’s home in Ontario, federal prosecutors said.
In the course of the investigation into the terrorist attack, federal investigators determined that Marquez received money to marry Chernykh, who took part in the wedding only to gain legal status in the U.S. FBI agents interrogated Chernykh as part of the probe into the terror attack, and prosecutors say she lied during those interviews, saying she lived with Marquez when she actually resided in Ontario.
All three are expected to appear in federal court in Riverside at 3 p.m. Thursday, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
All three were charged with conspiring to concoct the illusion of a marriage between Marquez and Chernykh, and would face up to five years in federal prison if convicted. Chernykh was also charged with fraud, misuse of visas and other documents, perjury and two counts of lying to federal investigators. She could face up to an additional 25 years in federal prison if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
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“This is the latest step in the comprehensive investigation into the horrific attacks in San Bernardino last year that took the lives of 14 innocent Americans and deeply affected so many more,” U.S. Atty. Eileen M. Decker said in a statement. “As I have said previously, we owe the victims, and the entire community of San Bernardino, a thorough investigation that uncovers all criminal activity surrounding these events.”
Calls to attorneys that previously represented the Farook family seeking comment were not immediately returned. It is not clear if the the Farooks or Chernykh currently have legal representation.
A 12-page indictment that was handed down on Wednesday afternoon accuses Chernykh and Marquez of staging photographs and purchasing a wedding ring a year after they were supposed to have been wed in order to sustain the illusion of a marriage.
Chernykh also made three separate $200 deposits in a bank account she shared with Marquez in late 2015, according to the indictment. Federal prosecutors have previously said Marquez was paid $200 per month to take part in a sham marriage with Chernykh.
The pair claimed they were married at a “religious institution” in Corona in November 2014, according to the indictment, but Chernykh struggled to play the role of blissfully wedded wife early on, according to the indictment.
On Christmas Day in 2014, Tatiana Farook supposedly had to tell Chernykh to stop posting photos of the father of her child on social media, according to court records.
When the couple learned they were set to be interviewed by immigration officials in late 2015, panic set in, according to the indictment. Raheel Farook allegedly created a fraudulent lease agreement that suggested Marquez and Chernykh had been living together since November of 2014. The agreement said that the couple lived with Raheel Farook and his wife at their Forum Way in Corona residence, according to court records. But public records show Chernykh actually resided in Ontario.
In a November 2015 e-mail exchange, Marquez and Chernykh “discussed their mutual anxiety for their upcoming immigration interview due to the lack of contact with each other,” according to the indictment.
Days later, Marquez posted on social media that he “was involved in terrorist plots and he might go to prison for fraud,” the indictment said.
On Dec. 1, the day before the terror attacks, the two sisters traveled to a retail jewelry store in Riverside and purchased a $50 wedding ring for Marquez, according to the indictment.
Federal prosecutors say Tatiana Farook persisted with the lie just 24 hours after the deadly attack. When interviewed by the FBI on Dec. 3, Tatiana insisted Marquez and Chernykh had been living together at her Corona home, according to the indictment.
FBI agents have executed three search warrants at Raheel Farook’s home since Dec. 2, when Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people and wounded several more in a mass shooting at a conference room at the Inland Regional Center.
The husband and wife died hours later in a gun battle with police. Federal agents searched the older brother’s home, where several Farook family members live, in the days after the shooting.
They conducted a second search in February, after the investigation pivoted to a search for key evidence that might help the FBI track Farook and Malik’s movements after the Dec. 2 shooting. The hard drive of Farook’s laptop has eluded FBI agents and has become something of a holy grail in the investigation as the FBI tries to determine whether Farook and Malik had any help in planning or carrying out the attack.
In the days after the shooting, friends and neighbors of the brothers said they were polar opposites. While his younger brother has been named as the architect of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since 2001, the elder Farook was a Navy veteran who received medals for service in the “Global War on Terrorism.”
The older brother was the extrovert of the two, friends say, loud and sociable when compared with Rizwan Farook.
While there has been no indication the elder Farook brother had any knowledge of his brother’s plans, police were called to his Corona home days after the attack at the Inland Regional Center because of a domestic disturbance. The Riverside County district attorney’s office later declined to file charges.
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Sarah Parvini contributed to this report.