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Marriage broker gets 4 years
ORLANDO -- A former Russian translator for Daytona Beach's chamber of commerce made excuses for some of her actions Thursday before she was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison for arranging illegal marriages for profit.
Natalia Humm, 50, was prodded by Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg, who told a judge that Humm misrepresented herself to obtain a bank loan for the Daytona Beach business she ran -- Power of Attorney Inc. -- to pay her debt to the government for her ill-gotten gains.
Humm provided Chase bank with information about her business, Handberg said, even though the company had been closed down amid a federal investigation of Humm's marriages-for-green-cards scheme.
"She fled the country," Handberg said, referring to Humm's use of a loan to pay $75,000 to the U.S. government under an asset forfeiture of $240,000 before she fled to Central America. "The fact that she used a closed company to get a loan doesn't show an acceptance of responsibility," Handberg said.
"I guess I did something wrong now," Humm explained. "It was the one thing I could do to pay; maybe it wasn't the best idea."
Humm had been in federal custody since last July, when she was caught in El Salvador. Humm pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, marriage fraud and immigration fraud.
Through her Power of Attorney Inc., authorities said Humm was paid by more than 25 immigrants from Uzbekistan, the former Soviet state of Georgia, and Israel up to $10,000 to arrange phony marriages to U.S. citizens. "She tremendously profited," Handberg told U.S District Judge Anne Conway at Thursday's sentencing hearing.
The local citizens, who included recovering drug addicts and other locals in need of cash, were coached by Humm and her ex-husband, Larry Humm, 61, of Ormond Beach on how to make the marriages appear real.
The citizen spouses were instructed to keep clothing and photos of the immigrant spouses in their homes until the waiting period was up, authorities said. More than 10 people have been prosecuted in connection to the case, with more charges pending, Handberg said.
One of those spouses, a disabled ex-con named Carl Booth, 52, said he got mixed up in the scheme when he was approached by a woman while working at a Holly Hill used car lot. Booth was living behind Riviera Auto Sales in a trailer on a modest pension he'd inherited from his parents.
But when the pension board learned Booth had married in February 2006, they scratched his $850-a-month benefit.
Booth says he was paid about $1,200 to marry a 33-year-old woman from Uzbekistan. Because the marriage was a fraud, he's hoping to encourage the government to help get his benefit back. "I need it bad," he said.
With no money, Booth lost the trailer he'd been living in for 15 years, and his health insurance. Now he's flopping in the woods, and diving in Dumpsters for meals. "I lost everything I own," he said.
Law enforcement authorities said Thursday they are trying to assist Booth as best they can with his problem, but the issue is complicated because Booth accepted payment for the fraudulent marriage.
FBI Special Agent Dave Brown, who worked to investigate the case, said he believes several of the recruiters paid by Humm "preyed on some people of low economic means."
Booth said he blames Humm, who profited from his loss. "I feel scammed."
The maximum sentence for Humm's three charges was up to 15 years in prison.
The judge ordered Humm to be on supervised release for three years after she is released from prison. She was ordered to receive mental-health treatment. Humm will also have to complete 150 hours of community service, the judge said.
Humm's ex-husband Larry, a former Volusia County sheriff's deputy, acted as a coach in the operation. He pleaded guilty last year to marriage fraud and conspiracy. He'll face up to five years in prison when he's sentenced next month.
In spite of Handberg's argument that Humm had not learned her lesson, the former marriage broker disagreed.
"I accept responsibility," she told the judge in a thick Russian accent. "I'm very sorry. I came to this country as a refugee . . . I tried to be a good citizen. I was involved in many activities."
She was led out of the courtroom in a blue prison jumpsuit.