Six people were charged on Tuesday in connection with a “birth tourism” and money laundering program in Long Island (NY) that resulted in 119 children being born in the United States, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
From January 2017 to September 2020, 117 mothers traveled from Turkey to give birth to the United States so that their children could receive citizenship and benefits. This resulted in a $ 2.1 million loss for Medicaid, authorities said.
“With the help of online advertisements, the defendants committed an international fraud that relied on a parade of women who paid them thousands of dollars in fees to falsely enter the United States to give birth here,” said Seth DuCharme, a U.S. lawyer. “The defendants redeemed the desire for first-born citizenship, and the U.S. taxpayer ended up stuck in a $ 2.1 million bill.”
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Five people were arrested on Tuesday. The sixth defendant was not named.
The defendants – four Turkish nationals and two American nationals – Sarah Kaplan (46), the Center Moriches – also known as “Hatun Kaplan” and “Hatin Kaplan” – Ibrahim Aksakal, 48, from Patchogue East, also known as Dennis ” Enes Burak Cakiroglu (24), East Patchogue, Fiordalia Marte (41), Lindenhurst, aka “Lisa,” and Edgar Rodriguez (48) of Farmingville, known as “Eddie,” the DOJ reported.
The group is accused of setting up “maternity homes” in Suffolk County where expectant mothers could remain until birth. They were also advised to misrepresent tourist visa applications and claim to be traveling to the United States for tourism and business purposes, prosecutors said.
Aksakalt, Cakiroglu and Kaplan are accused of conspiring to commit visa fraud, medical fraud, landline fraud and money laundering. Marte and Rodriguez were charged with conspiracy to commit health fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering.
Marte and Rodriguez are professionally trained and qualified to help individuals seek health care, which has resulted in Medicaid fraud, prosecutors said.
The group allegedly used Turkish-language Facebook pages and a Turkish-language website to promote its services. One site, “My Baby Should Be Born in America,” allegedly advertised transportation and hospital costs, medical care, and assistance in applying for U.S. citizenship on behalf of children.
“If you think your child should be born in the U.S. and be an American citizen, you’re in the right place,” read an ad.
Charges averaged around $ 7,500 – almost all paid in cash – including transportation, antenatal care, delivery and postpartum medical care, and assistance in applying for U.S. citizenship on behalf of U.S.-born children, the indictment said. The women were also instructed to hide their pregnancies, prosecutors said.
Authorities said the suspects pocketed $ 750,000 in fees from the system.
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The defendants are sentenced to up to 20 years in prison each.
“This indictment should send a message to others who exploit birth tourism – here in Suffolk, the elimination of the system and the deception of our residents cannot be tolerated,” said Geraldine Hart, Commissioner of Suffolk County Police Headquarters.
It was not clear what consequences the case might have for the citizenship of the children, if any.