LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Starting next week, passengers at a downtown Los Angeles bus stop will see a poster warning Angelenos that marriage fraud is a federal crime that carries significant prison sentences and possible six-figure fines.

The poster – which is part of a nationwide campaign from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – will be installed Monday at a bus stop adjacent to the federal building on Los Angeles Street. A second placard was scheduled to be posted at what ICE officials described as another “high traffic location” in the Los Angeles area in about two weeks.

Featuring a photo showing the inside of a church juxtaposed with an image depicting the interior of a jail, the poster’s text warns that those who walk down the aisle of the church for the “wrong reasons” could end up walking down the aisle of a jail for as long as five years along with fines of up to $250,000.

Those charged with marriage fraud may also be charged with visa fraud, harboring an alien, conspiracy and making false statements; each charge carries additional prison sentences and financial penalties, according to ICE officials.

While ICE officials acknowledge it is a strong message, but Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles, said the stern language is needed to remind the public about the possible consequences associated with sham marriages.

“Marriage fraud is not a storyline for a Hollywood rom-com, it’s a federal crime, and unfortunately one that is all too common,” said Arnold. “Schemes like this not only undermine the integrity of America’s legal immigration system, they also pose a significant security vulnerability.”

The poster is part of a nationwide outreach campaign targeting three New York City and Washington, D.C., in addition to the Los Angeles area.

On Tuesday, Alake Ilegbameh, a 46-year-old Nigerian national who was living in Baldwin Hills, was sentenced to 26 months in federal prison after an HSI investigation revealed that he arranged sham marriages for Nigerian nationals so they could obtain legal permanent residency in the United States.

Once released, Ilegbameh will faced deportation, according to ICE officials, who say Ilegbameh was in the U.S. illegally and was seeking to adjust his status based upon a fraudulent marriage.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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