PORTLAND —When she turned 18, Raeanna Johnson had the word “survive” tattooed over her heart to remind her to keep fighting when things seemed bleakest.

Her father died from an accidental drug overdose when she was 3. Her mother died from cancer when she was 15, leaving her orphaned.

She was moved from Maine to Florida and into an abusive family, where an aunt abandoned her at an emergency room, according to federal court records that chronicle Johnson’s troubled life.

The state of Florida took her to a behavioral health center, where she languished after no family came to retrieve her.

Eventually, the state put her in a children’s home.

She later returned to Maine to live with her aged grandparents, who were unprepared to care for her.


It was there she began a relationship with a 25-year-old man, who abused her emotionally, physically and financially.

He lived off the death benefits she received after her mother’s death and drank all day.

She had dropped out of school and was trapped in a relationship that had escalated to an extreme point.

She’d been unable to escape.

Even when police were called, she couldn’t get away.

“It was during this time that Raeanna made a choice to help herself,” her attorney, Sarah Branch wrote in court papers.


Johnson had “placed an ad online to try to find a job. A job where she could earn money in secret and hopefully save enough money to get away. That is when she met Defendant Gormatov.”

On Tuesday, a judge sentenced Johnson, now 27, to time-served for her role in the conspiracy of assisting Alexander Gormatov, a Russian citizen, to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.

Johnson, who was 17 at the time, had placed an ad on Craigslist to try to find a job.

Gormatov had answered her ad, offering to help her in exchange for a lie that would, years later, find Johnson pleading guilty to two felony crimes under federal law.

Out of desperation, she had made a choice to help Gormatov in an effort to free herself from the life in which she had become trapped, she would later recount as a witness at Gormatov’s trial.

At the time, lying to the government had seemed like a minor matter “in comparison to evils she was experiencing” at the hands of her abuser, Branch wrote in court papers.


The choice hadn’t been difficult. Johnson would later admit to her wrongdoing in federal court and pay the price for it.

As arranged, when she turned 18, she married Gormatov in order to secure him legal U.S. status, in exchange for money.

The two had lied to government officials, saying they had lived together as husband and wife, even though they hadn’t.

When Johnson gave birth two years later, Gormatov had been presented as the father, even though he wasn’t.

Just over a year ago, Johnson signed an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to two felonies, including conspiracy to commit visa fraud and false statements to a government agency.

Each of the two charges is punishable by up to five years in prison.


On Tuesday, Johnson appeared from her Naples home via videoconference for sentencing by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Torresen.

“I’m here today to hold myself accountable,” Johnson said.

Shortly before her mother died, she had made Johnson promise her several things, including protecting her money she would receive in death benefits and not letting men take advantage of her.

Johnson said Tuesday she had failed to heed her mother’s advice on both counts.

“I broke those promises,” she said. “In order to be the woman I’ve become, I need to take responsibility for the girl I was,” she told the judge.

Johnson has begun to turn her life around, she said.


She is in a stable, loving relationship and is raising a 7-year-old daughter, who struggles with medical issues.

Reflecting on her past abandonment as a child, she said she made it her mission to help those who find themselves in similar circumstances to her own. She has plans to adopt a 12-year-old boy from Florida foster care when her court case is over, she said.

Torresen effectively brought Johnson’s case to a close Tuesday, ordering no prison time nor probation for her.

Reviewing the plea, the judge said, “I wouldn’t consider that the crime of the century.”

Noting Johnson’s “extremely difficult life,” Torresen ticked off the challenges Johnson was forced to reckon with as a child.

“You were a lost girl, really and that’s not your fault,” Torresen said, pausing to regain her composure during the emotional court hearing.

Torresen said she was “very happy” Johnson’s story didn’t end in tragedy as it easily could have.

“Your honesty is searing,” Torresen said. “You really were dealt a very difficult hand in life and you’ve played it very well.”

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