An optimist might think the uptick in marriages performed by Rev. Alex Brown of East Sussex, U.K.—who officiated at 13 ceremonies from 2001 to 2005, and a whopping 383 in the four years that followed—was a sign of love in the air. In fact, police say it was part of a massive immigration fraud. On July 29, the vicar and two other men were found guilty of organizing about 360 sham marriages from 2005 to 2009, part of a scheme that saw African nationals marrying Eastern Europeans in order to gain residency in Britain.
According to investigators, Brown was working with Ukrainian national Vladymyr Buchak, who’d befriend vulnerable migrant workers and convince them to marry for money, and Michael Adelasoye, an immigration lawyer. In an eight-week trial, some of those involved in sham marriages told of being handed cash in the church parking lot; breaking into tears at the altar; and of spouses who couldn’t speak the same language.
Brown and his accomplices will be sentenced on Sept. 6; he may face disciplinary action from the Anglican Church as well, noted Philip Jones, the archdeacon of Lewes and Hastings, who called Brown’s actions a “betrayal of trust.” Meanwhile, about 150 applications from people married at the vicar’s church to remain in the U.K. have been frozen.