LONG ISLAND, NY – Earlier today, at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, an indictment was unsealed charging Ibrahim Aksakal, Indicted Co-conspirator #1, Enes Burak Cakiroglu and Sarah Kaplan with conspiring to commit visa fraud, health care fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, and Fiordalisa Marte and Edgar Rodriguez with conspiring to commit health care fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, for their participation in a so-called “birth tourism” scheme in Suffolk County between approximately 2017 and 2020. The scheme facilitated pregnant Turkish women fraudulently entering the United States using tourist and business visas to give birth so that their children would obtain birthright citizenship and medical benefits.
Five of the defendants were arrested this morning and will be arraigned this afternoon before Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke. One defendant remains at large.
Seth D. DuCharme, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Timothy D. Sini, District Attorney for Suffolk County; Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent-in-Charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and Geraldine Hart, Commissioner, Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), announced the arrests and the indictment.
As alleged in the Indictment, from at least January 2017 to the September 2020, the defendants advertised a birth tourism scheme on two Turkish-language Facebook pages, www.facebook.com/ bebegimamerikadadogsun and www.facebook.com/amerikadadogum.org, and a Turkish-language website https://amerikadadogum.org. Translated into English, “bebegimamerikadadogsun” means “My baby should be born in America,” and “amerikadadogum” means “Giving Birth in America.” As translated, some of the defendants’ advertisements stated, “If you believe your baby should be born in the USA and become a U.S. citizen then you are at the right place. . . . [W]e at ‘Bebegim Amerika Dogsun’ . . . will provide future mothers and fathers this opportunity, with minimal costs . . . .” The advertisements further stated that fees paid by pregnant women – approximately $7,500 nearly all in cash – would include transportation, “insurance” to cover the costs of pre-natal, delivery and post-natal medical care, assistance with the process for applying for United States citizenship on behalf of children born in connection with the scheme and consultation in Turkish concerning health care issues. The defendants also allegedly instructed the women to conceal their pregnancies.
As alleged in the indictment and court filings, the pregnant women were housed in one of seven “birth houses” that the defendants maintained in Center Moriches, Dix Hills, East Northport, East Patchogue, Smithtown and West Babylon, New York. Defendants Aksakal, Indicted Co-conspirator #1, Cakiroglu and Kaplan facilitated the lodging and transportation of the pregnant women. Marte and Rodriguez, who were professionally trained and certified to assist individuals to apply for health coverage, obtained the purported “insurance” which was actually Medicaid benefits, by submitting fraudulent Medicaid applications on behalf of the pregnant women.
As a result of the defendants’ scheme, the indictment alleges that Medicaid disbursed more than $2.1 million in fraudulently-obtained benefits, and estimates that the defendants’ received approximately $750,000 in fees from the pregnant women, a portion of which was funneled to one or more bank accounts in Turkey.
“Using Internet ads, the defendants perpetrated an international fraud that relied upon a parade of women who paid them thousands of dollars in fees in order to enter the United States under false pretenses, to give birth here. The defendants cashed in on the desire for birthright citizenship, and the American taxpayer ultimately got stuck with the $2.1 million bill,” stated Acting United States Attorney DuCharme. “The indictment unsealed today reinforces the principle that American citizenship is not for sale, and that our benefits programs are not piggy banks for criminals to plunder.”
Mr. DuCharme expressed his grateful appreciation to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, United States Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, New York State Department of Health and the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General for their assistance during the investigation.
“This is a brazen birth tourism scheme in which the defendants not only violated our nation’s immigration laws, but went a step further, sticking the taxpayers of Suffolk County with the bill for their scam by stealing millions of dollars from the Medicaid program,” stated District Attorney Sini. “Medicaid is designed to help people in need – not to be used as a slush fund for criminals to subsidize their fraudulent schemes, which is precisely what these defendants did. Let the message be clear: federal and local law enforcement will continue to work together to protect the residents of Suffolk County.”
“This international criminal organization operated a fraud scheme to exploit women and their newborns” stated HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Fitzhugh. “Birth tourism is dangerous, inhumane and diverts precious community resources to the coffers of criminals. HSI’s collaborative efforts and extraordinary partnership with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York, has led to multiple criminal arrests around the county today. Those arrested today are charged with fraud and money laundering, and now may instead find themselves touring the inside of a federal prison.”
“Our Suffolk County Police Department detectives uncovered a birth tourism scheme and thanks to their tenacity and the countless hours dedicated to investigating the intricacies of the scheme, a case came together and six individuals are now being held responsible for their roles in this conspiracy,” stated SCPD Commissioner Hart. “This indictment should send a message to others exploiting birth tourism—bilking the system and swindling our residents is not tolerated here in Suffolk. Together, with the Eastern District of New York, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, and Homeland Security Investigations along with assistance from other state agencies, this operation has been halted and those responsible are being held accountable.”
The charges announced today are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Long Island Criminal Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Bradley T. King and Oren Gleich and Special Assistant United States Attorneys Jeremy Glicksman and Joseph Conley are in charge of the prosecution.