COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – More than a dozen men and women were suspected of arranging or participating in marriages with Bulgarians to help the foreigners evade U.S. immigration laws, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.

The scheme, which involved U.S. citizens being recruited and paid to marry Bulgarians, appears to have started in 1997, an assistant U.S. attorney said.

A federal indictment charged 13 Bulgarians and 15 U.S. citizens with conspiring to arrange or participate in marriages to evade immigration laws.

Nine of those charged were still being sought. More than a dozen also faced an additional marriage fraud charge.

The marriages occurred in South Carolina, where the U.S. citizens were recruited, and Georgia, according to the indictment.

Some of the Bulgarians were arrested in Boston, Chicago, Stamford, Conn., and Portland, Maine, McDonald said.

Krassimer Simeonov, a Bulgarian, was involved in each of the arranged unions, according to the indictment.

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