Reverend Alex Brown was found guilty of conspiring to facilitate breaches in immigration law in July alongside two other men, Ukrainian national Vladymyr Buchak and lawyer Michael Adelasoye, following an eight-week trial.
Brown had earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of carrying out marriage ceremonies without banns of matrimony being published.
Today Judge Richard Hayward sentenced the three to four years each. Brown also received five months for failing to publish banns, while Buchak was given nine months for possessing a false identity document. These sentences are to run concurrently.
The jail terms were handed down as the UK Border Agency begins a month-long crackdown on organised criminal networks exploiting the immigration system.
An investigation by the UK Border Agency’s South East immigration crime team found that the trio were involved in up to 360 sham marriages at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, between 2005 and 2009. Reverend Brown officiated at all the ceremonies.
Largest sham marriage scam ever
It is believed to be the largest sham marriage scam ever uncovered in Britain.
Speaking after the sentencing, Andy Cummins, in charge of immigration crime team investigations in the South East for the UK Border Agency, said:
‘These three men were involved in the biggest criminal conspiracy of its type ever seen in Britain. These sentences show just how seriously the courts take these kinds of offences.
‘Reverend Brown knowingly abused the trust put in him by the church, his congregation and his community. His role was crucial in this scam. His co-conspirators took advantage of and exploited the desperation of others for their own ends.
‘As this case shows, illegal immigration can be big business. We are committed to tackling the criminal groups behind it, putting the ringleaders before the courts, and, ultimately, behind bars.”
The three were convicted on 29 July. During their trial at Lewes Crown Court, the jury was told how the vast majority of marriages carried out at St Peter’s Church, during the time that Reverend Brown was there, were organised with the aim of assisting applications for residency in the UK.
Many of the weddings involved Eastern Europeans, sourced by Buchak through his work, marrying West Africans, whom Adelasoye represented at his legal practice.
In some cases ceremonies were cancelled at short notice, only for the same person to return again with a different partner to ‘marry’ just days later.
Illegal immigration is big business
Damian Green, minister for immigration, said: ‘Illegal immigration is big business. At home and abroad, we are tackling highly organised crime groups who make their living by trying to exploit the immigration system and breach our border security.
‘Some of these hide people in lorries in an attempt to cross our borders illegally; some provide them with fake identity documents; others set up bogus colleges or arrange sham marriages. Worst of all - some force women and children to work against their will in the sex industry.
‘This month, the UK Border Agency is carrying out an intense period of activity to go after these organised crime groups to put the ringleaders before the courts and shut off the supply of illegal immigrants at its source.’