updated 11/30/2005 6:35:22 AM ET 2005-11-30T11:35:22

Federal authorities say a sophisticated marriage scam in southern California charged foreigners seeking citizenship $60,000 for a mate, and even provided fake wedding photographs, fake tax returns and love letters.

Eleven people were arrested in connection with the scam Tuesday, authorities said. Investigators believe the fraud scheme targeted Chinese and Vietnamese nationals.

“Marriage fraud is not a new phenomenon but clearly this scheme was one of the most ambitious and creative we’ve ever encountered,” said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Authorities began investigating the alleged ring three years ago after authorities noticed U.S. citizens who were seeking green cards for more than one spouse. The investigation, dubbed Operation Newlywed Game, resulted in 44 indictments on charges of conspiracy, misuse of visas and marriage fraud. Not all have been arrested.

Recruiters for the ring allegedly received $1,000 for each U.S. client they found who was willing to participate. The Americans allegedly received $3,000 to $5,000, plus travel expenses, to fly to Vietnam or China for arranged marriages and to apply for visas for their spouses, authorities said.

Some of the defendants were released to house arrest and others held on bail ranging from $25,000 to $75,000 during a hearing in federal court. Many of the suspects were already in custody in other cases and three remained at large, authorities said.

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