A press secretary to Hispanic media in Nevada for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is no longer with his office amid a news report accusing her of marrying a man in 2003 to help him evade immigration laws, a Reid spokesman said Monday night.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that the conduct allegedly committed by Diana Tejada was “clearly wrong.” He said Reid’s office was not previously aware of the allegations, first reported Monday on FoxNews.com. He added Tejada is no longer with the office after an internal investigation.
The Fox News report said the 28-year-old Tejada lied to authorities to cover up her marriage to 37-year-old Bassam Mahmoud Tarhini. But the report said Tejada was never charged with a crime.
Manley declined to say whether Tejada resigned or was fired–or even when she stopped working for Reid, saying he doesn’t discuss personnel issues. He said she had been employed in Reid’s office since 2008.
A federal criminal complaint filed against Tarhini in Oklahoma in July 2009 says Tejada and Tarhini were married in September 2003, while they were both students at Oklahoma City College. The complaint said Tarhini, a Lebanese citizen from Beirut, entered the United States in 2000 on a student visa to attend the school.
Two months after getting married, Tarhini registered to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States, the complaint said.
“Tejada’s stated reason for her withdrawal was that her marriage to Tarhini was false,” the complaint said. “Tejada married Tarhini after he told her he did not want to return to Lebanon because he would have to serve in the national army.”
The Fox News report said Tarhini was deported in March 2010.
An aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repeatedly lied to federal immigration and FBI agents and submitted false federal documents to the Department of Homeland Security to cover up her illegal seven-year marriage to a Lebanese national who was the subject of an Oklahoma City Joint Terror Task Force investigation, FoxNews.com has learned.
Diana Tejada, Reid’s Hispanic Press Secretary, admitted to receiving payment for “some of her expenses” in exchange for fraudulently marrying Bassam Mahmoud Tarhini in 2003, strictly so he could obtain permanent U.S. residency, according to court documents.
Tarhini, now 37, was held in jail and at an immigration detention center in connection with his 2009 indictment on felony charges, documents show. He pleaded guilty to entering a fraudulent marriage to evade immigration laws–a Class D felony–in November 2009, and he was deported in March 2010.
Tejada, now 28, was never charged for her role in the crime.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement would not comment on why it took five years to investigate the couple’s marriage.
As recently as five weeks ago, on Sept. 21, 2010, Tejada appeared as a guest on a Spanish-language radio program in her official capacity as a spokeswoman for Harry Reid.
In court documents, Tejada, who was also the Press Secretary of Hispanic Media for the Senate Majority Conference Committee, is referred to as “an uncharged coconspirator in the crime of perjury, filing false immigration documents, the crime of sham marriage.”
According to interviews and court records obtained by FoxNews.com, Tejada knowingly filed false documents with the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services; lied in in-person interviews with ICE and FBI agents; and submitted fraudulent visa application affidavits and marriage license documents–all in attempt to use her status as an American citizen to get Tarhini permanent residency.
Court records show that Tejada signed numerous affidavits fraudulently representing her marriage, including forms documenting her financial and employment information along with a signed obligation to support Tarhini.
As part of the process, documents show, she and Tarhini attended an August 31, 2004, meeting at Citizenship and Immigration Services in Oklahoma City, where they misrepresented their marriage to immigration officials.
The next year, Tarhini stayed in Oklahoma while Tejada moved to Washington D.C., where she began working as a spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, court and public records show.
In 2008, five years after he filed his visa application, Tarhini filed a suit against ICE officials to force a decision regarding the application–a strategy commonly employed when visa decisions appear to be taking an inordinate amount of time.
In 2008, sources with knowledge of the case told FoxNews.com, the FBI–working with the Oklahoma City Joint Terrorism Task Force–sent what’s called a collateral request to ICE, asking them to track down Tejada to interview her about Tarhini.
At this point, Tarhini was a subject of interest in an Oklahoma JTTF investigation, sources said.
In May or June 2008, a source told FoxNews.com, Tejada was interviewed by ICE and FBI agents in Washington, and she maintained that her marriage was legitimate.
In October 2008, Tejada began working for Reid.
On Nov 3, 2008, ICE and FBI agents re-interviewed Tejada in Washington, according to documents and interviews. This time, sources said, agents presented a slew of evidence against her and Tarhini, and Tejada broke down and confessed that her marriage was a lie, carried out to get Tarhini U.S. residency.
According to court records, she also told authorities that she and Tarhini had never dated nor consummated their marriage.
She told officials that she and Tarhini had discussed divorce, but they agreed to wait a while longer–until December 2008–to see if his visa would be approved, records state.
In the presence of the federal agents, Tejada withdrew her visa petition for Tarhini, stopping his application to become a permanent resident, and signed a sworn affidavit saying that the marriage was a sham.
But in July 2009, when an ICE agent testifying at Tarhini’s preliminary deportation hearing was asked specifically about Tejada’s employer, the agent did not say it was the U.S. Senate.
ICE Special Agent Rebecca Perkins: “Currently she is employed with the–a Hispanic center organization.”
Tarhini’s Defense Counsel, Jeffrey Byers: “Is that La Raza? Does that sound familiar?”
Perkins: “I don’t know.”
Byers: “It’s a–it’s a–it’s something that is a public service group for the Hispanic community. Is that a fair statement, or something to that degree?”
According to sources with knowledge of the November 2008 meeting, Tejada also told ICE and FBI agents that she was concerned about some of Tarhini’s associates, including the best man at her wedding, a Pakistani national named Amer Awli, whom she described as “very secretive.” Awli’s current whereabouts are unknown.
Following Tarhini’s arrest in 2009, he was interviewed by FBI agents who sources say asked about his ties to extremists groups. Some sources said they determined he did not have ties to any terror group, but other sources close to the case said that could not be ruled out.
On March 20, 2009, Tarhini’s visa application for status as a lawful permanent resident was denied due to fraud and misrepresentation of his marriage to Tejada, court records state.
That same day, Tarhini was administratively arrested by ICE “due to failure to maintain his non-immigrant student status and fraudulent marriage,” court records state. “He was no longer attending the Oklahoma City University, thus violating his immigration status.”
In August 2009 Tarhini was indicted on two felony charges: Entering into a marriage to evade immigration laws, and subscribing to false statements. As part of a plea deal last November, he pleaded guilty to the first charge, and the second was dropped.
Tarhini was sentenced to time served and three years’ supervised release. ICE spokeswoman Gillian Brigham confirmed to FoxNews.com that Tarhini was “removed” from the U.S. on March 3, 2010.