By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Favorite fifth-marriage moment: during a 3 a.m. prostitution sweep in my hotel, the police knocked on every single door and asked for passports. They told us—I was with a group of girls; our male guide, Tom, was in a room downstairs—that we had to go with them to the police station. We were unwilling, and the police left to go knock on other doors. We slammed the door behind us and locked it tight. We dialed Tom, but he never answered. The knocking stopped, and we waited in the dark all night for police to kick the door open. At daybreak, I got my balls up and opened the door: empty and quiet. I took the elevator down to see if our guide was around, but no one opened his door. I went back up to the room to report to the other girls, who looked completely staggered. The youngest girl—a traditional Vietnamese beauty with long, black hair and wide almond eyes—timidly explained: "Tom is at the police station. He got charged with having a hooker in his room."
So. Our guide was out of the picture. Luckily, I had picked up enough Mandarin to get us back to Guangzhou and then to the United States. In marriages six and seven, I used my first doctored passports, altered to appear as though I had never been to China. As a repeat bride who could only report so many passports stolen, the contacts in the U.S.—Bob, Becky and friends—would steam off old visas, then take the new visa and sticker it over the old entry and exit stamps. On the seventh trip, Chinese customs officers flipped through my passport over and over, noticing the old stamps when they held the document up to the light. They questioned me for half an hour, wanting to know if I had any other documents with me—obviously meaning the marriage license and the notary documents. I could only play stupid, eventually turning into the vulnerable, frustrated female and weeping and acting confused about why I couldn't just board my plane and go home. They let me go, unable to prove anything, and I kept crying, from relief instead of frustration.
I landed in New York, in the great blackout of August 2003. JFK was chaotic enough for me to push through without serious trouble. U.S. Customs held me for a half-hour of rapid questioning but let me go. They didn't look happy.
I decided that I'd go in one more time. It had been four years, and I felt a little ragged. My conscience had revived itself enough to put an edge to the way I'd been living my life—ripping off people who dreamed of coming to America. But one more time would give me the capital I'd need to set myself up in San Francisco and the momentum I'd use to erase all ties with the marriage rings. I felt like Johnny Depp in the cocaine epic Blow—I'd like to think of myself as the bloated cocaine dealer who only wanted a bit of dirty money to put him on the path to righteousness.
And this last husband wasn't even in China. He was already in California. We'd already met in Irvine in December 2002, had married in Santa Ana that same month, and would interview with the INS—the last part of the operation—in October 2003. Eight days later, I'd ride shotgun in a friend's pickup truck to San Francisco.
Call him Chow Yun Fat: husband No. 8 looked exactly like the Hong Kong action star, though a bit thinner. He was a very sweet man and soft-spoken. I respected him in a lot of ways; he had spent 10 years in Tokyo, gaining experience and enjoying himself. His Japanese was impeccable. We both loved eating at Taiko. One night, we went to Dana Point to take pictures for the photo album I was faking and spoke with an elderly couple. I used that as an opportunity to warm up for the INS interview, telling her that we were newlyweds and weren't able to afford to go on a honeymoon because we'd bought a new home.
When we walked into the immigration building in Santa Ana, we had to have looked nervous. But the trick is to look legal-nervous, not felon-nervous. The U.S. marriage wasn't supposed to be a problem, my contacts told me. But the feds knew we were coming—walking right in, all by ourselves—and once my interview was over, the six Homeland Security Agents swept through the door. This is the part I feel most sorry about: Yun Fat's distressed, heartbroken, confused face, the last thing I looked at as they hauled me upstairs.
I cried as they WROTE out ASTATEMENT, cried as they poked me for answers, cried as Deputy Fanny Pack holstered his six-shooter and gave me a granola bar. That was nice of him. They started with a fat manila folder that they set down in front of me. "We have some photos of people that we took at the airport," they asked. "Could you give us a positive ID on any of these women?" Becky was in the lineup, clear as day. No one likes to be a stool pigeon. "Can you tell us her name?" No, I said. She gave me fake names. "How did you come upon this scheme? Did you realize what you were doing was against the law? Were you forced into any of these marriages? Did they threaten you in any way?" Their dossier was as thick as my wrist—they knew about the marriages in China, the plan with Yun Fat, even the traffic violations and tickets I'd racked up as a teenager. "Would you be willing to wear a wiretap and go undercover?" The agent looked absolutely serious. That was when it became surreal, I'm-living-in-a-Grisham-novel surreal. I said so out loud; someone wrote it down. I told him I wouldn't go undercover, afraid of being shot down by angry mobs of Chinese/Vietnamese dudes like an Oriental Sopranos. "You're probably right for being cautious," he admitted. "We just heard about a guy losing his ability to walk over shit like this." I blinked. "Okay, that's all the questions. I just want you to know that you engaged in a serious national-security risk. Any of the guys who might have possibly leaked over from these marriages could be a potential terrorist."