LOS ANGELES — The older brother of terrorist Sayeed Rizwan Farook was arrested in Corona April 28, along with his wife and sister-in law, on federal conspiracy, marriage fraud and other alleged crimes uncovered in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre.
Syed Raheel Farook, 31, of Corona; his wife, Tatiana Farook, 31, of Corona; and her sister, Mariya Chernykh, 26, of Ontario, were arrested during two raids carried out by FBI agents and U.S. Marshals.
The trio appeared at U.S. District Court in Riverside, pleading not guilty to multiple felonies returned in a grand jury indictment April 27.
U.S. Magistrate David Bristow presided over the arraignment, which doubled as a bail-setting conference, turning into a three-hour saga during which the defendants’ attorneys challenged terms and conditions sought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Robinson did not contest most of the defendants’ requests, but did press for the highest bond amount on Chernykh, whom he described as the “most culpable” of the three. Bristow set her bond at $50,000, which her boyfriend, Oscar Romero, agreed to meet.
Robinson noted that all of the defendants were “willing to engage in subterfuge to defraud the U.S.,” but he shied away from any mention of the Dec. 2 jihadi terror attack on the Inland Regional Center, perpetrated by 28-year-old Sayeed Rizwan Farook and his wife, 27-year-old Tashfeen Malik.
Fourteen people were slain and two dozen wounded. The shooters died during a gun battle with police a few hours later.
“This case is about misrepresentation in an act of marriage; it’s not about an act of terror,” said Syed Raheel Farook’s attorney, Ron Cordova, during the proceedings.
Farook is charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. Bristow set his bail at $25,000, which the defendant’s mother, Rafia Farook, agreed to cover. She also agreed to pay Tatiana Farook’s $35,000 bail. The surety will be paid, in part, by equity in the woman’s Corona property.
Tatiana Farook was also charged with conspiracy, while Chernykh was indicted on charges of misuse of work visas and permits, conspiracy, perjury and making materially false statements to the government.
Bristow’s bail terms stipulated that the sisters are not to have any direct contact, except when making arrangements for Tatiana’s 18-month-old child and Chernyk’s 3-year-old to play together — and then only after informing the court.
Chernyk will be required to wear an ankle monitor so that marshals can keep track of her. All of the defendants were restricted to traveling within Southern California.
Bristow scheduled a pretrial hearing for June 6 at the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.
The indictment accuses the trio of carrying out a marriage fraud conspiracy to obtain immigration benefits for Chernykh, a Russian citizen who allegedly entered into a sham marriage with Enrique Marquez, a friend of Syed Rizwan Farook.
Marquez was previously indicted for supplying Syed Rizwan Farook and Malik with the rifles to perpetrate the IRC killing spree.
According to authorities, the Farooks engaged in the conspiracy by being witnesses at Marquez and Chernykh’s wedding, taking staged family pictures of the couple, creating a joint checking account for Marquez and Chernykh, as well as a back-dated lease that implied they shared a marital residence with the Farooks.
Marquez and Chernykh allegedly signed immigration documents, under penalty of perjury, falsely stating that they both lived at the same address.
The indictment alleges that Marquez received money from Chernykh as part of the arrangement. Marquez continues to await trial on charges of conspiring with Syed Rizwan Farook in 2011 and 2012 to provide material support to terrorists.
“This is the latest step in the comprehensive investigation into the horrific attacks in San Bernardino last year that took the lives of 14 innocent Americans and deeply affected so many more,” U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said.
“As I have said previously, we owe the victims, and the entire community of San Bernardino, a thorough investigation that uncovers all criminal activity surrounding these events.
“[These] 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.
“The charges also reflect the importance we place on statements made to law enforcement officials during a terrorism investigation.”