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Pregnant Turkish women charged in US over suspected 'birth tourism' fraud

Dozens of women have been caught up in the alleged scheme [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 December, 2020

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Six pregnant Turkish women have been charged with fraud in the US over an alleged 'birth tourism' scheme that involved dozens of others.

Six people have been charged with fraud in the US after a "birth tourism" and money laundering scheme was uncovered which saw some 117 pregnant Turkish women pay as much as $10,000 to give birth on Long Island and get US citizenship for their children.

US Attorney Seth DuCharme announced the indictment during a press conference.

The pregnant women reportedly travelled from Turkey to Suffolk County to give birth, before returning to Turkey. A total of 119 babies were born in the US under the scheme.

Four Turkish nationals and two US citizens were involved in the scheme, officials said. The suspectes were named as Ibrahim 'Dennis' Aksakal, Enes Burak Cakiroglu, Sarah Kaplan, Fiordalisa 'Lisa' Marte, and Edgar 'Eddie' Rodriguez. The sixth person indicted remains unnamed as they are still at large.

The six suspects were charged with conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering. The face at least 10 years in prison, prosecutors revealed.

The scheme had reportedly been advertised on two Turkish-language Facebook pages that advertised a program called ‘Bebegim Amerikada Dogsun,’ or ‘My Baby Should Be Born in America’.

Translated to English, several of the group's ads 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 . . . ." according to the indictment.

Pregnant mothers-to-be were set up with temporary homes called birthing houses in the US and two of the men, Marte and Rodriguez submitted an estimated 99 "fraudulent New York State Medicaid benefits applications on behalf of pregnant Turkish aliens", prosecutors said.

More than $2.1 million was stolen in Medicaid funding to pay for pre-natal, labour and delivery costs, and they charged between $7,500 to $10,000 for each woman.

The women were offered accommodation, transportation and hospital expenses through the birth, and the government alleges the defendants took an estimated $750,000 in fees from the women.

Nearly all the money that exchanged hands was in "untraceable cash" and funnelled through accounts in Turkey, "preventing the government from seizing it."

Investigations into the scheme began in 2018 after surveillance images captured the birth houses.

Officials said it is "unlikely" that US citizenship of babies born under this scheme would be revoked.

"The methods and means employed by these criminals were completely unacceptable," DuCharme said.

"This case was really about twisting those motives and incentives for people who wanted, essentially, the luxury of having a baby born in the United States, and along the way lying to the United States government." 

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