Federal agents arrested three people connected to San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook this morning on charges related to committing marriage fraud to subvert immigration laws, according to the US Department of Justice.

Those charged include the brother of Farook, Syed Raheel Farook; the brother’s wife, Tatiana Farook; and the wife’s sister, Mariya Chernykh, who is married to Enrique Marquez Jr.

Marquez was indicted in December 2015 of conspiring with Syed Rizwan Farook to support terrorists prior to the San Bernardino attack.

The new charges do not relate to the 2 December 2015 terrorist attack that killed 14 people, but instead stem from what prosectors allege was a conspiracy to “obtain immigration benefits” for Chernykh, a Russian citizen who did not have legal status in the US.

According to the indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury on Wednesday, Chernykh paid Marquez to marry her. The Farooks participated in the conspiracy by witnessing the “sham marriage” and helping the couple establish a paper trail for their marriage, including posing for family photographs.

On 1 December, just one day before the terrorist attack, Tatiana Farook went with her sister Chernykh to a “retail jewelry store” in Riverside, California, to purchase a $50 wedding ring for Marquez, according to the indictment.

“Today’s arrests open a new phase in the process of bringing to justice all individuals who allegedly committed crimes that were uncovered during our exhaustive investigation,” said US attorney Eileen M Decker.

“Last year’s tragedy in San Bernardino showed yet again how our nation’s legal immigration system can be subverted and exploited by those intent on doing this country harm,” added Joseph Macias, special agent in charge of homeland security investigations in Los Angeles.

Attorneys for the defendants were not immediately available for comment.

All three defendants are charged with conspiracy to knowingly make under oath a false statement on an immigration application, which carries a maximum five-year sentence. They are scheduled to be arraigned at 2pm local time at the federal courthouse in Riverside.

Chernykh is also charged with visa fraud, perjury, and two counts of making false statements to federal agents. Together those charges carry a maximum sentence of 25 years in federal prison.

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