The brother of one of the San Bernardino terror attack shooters was among three people arrested Thursday morning after warrants were served in a Southern California marriage fraud investigation.
All three of the individuals arrested Thursday in Ontario and Corona have family connections to gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, who died along with his wife in a shootout with police after the Dec. 2 mass shooting. The shooters killed 14 people at a holiday party earlier that day in San Bernardino.
The warrants were served Wednesday in connection with a five-count indictment that charges the three with making false statements to obtain immigration benefits for one of the defendants.
The marriage fraud case stemmed from the terror attack investigation and led to the arrests of Mariya Chernykh, 26, of Ontario; her sister, 31-year-old Tatiana Farook, of Corona; and Syed Raheel Farook, the 31-year-old husband of Tatiana Farook and brother to Syed Rizwan Farook.
All three pleaded not guilty in court Thursday afternoon.
Syed Raheel Farook was released on a $25,000 bond. His wife Tatiana was released on a $35,000 bond. A $50,000 bond was expected to be posted for Chernykh.
An immigration hold has been placed on Chernykh, so her release will not be immediate.
Outside court, their attorneys, Ron Cordova and Dyke Huish, were vocal about about separating the case from the terror attack.
Chernyhk is married to Enrique Marquez Jr., who is awaiting trial on charges of conspiring with Rizwan Farook in 2011 and 2012 to provide material support to terrorists. He has pleaded not guilty.
When he was indicted on those charges last year, Marquez also was charged with entering into a sham marriage with Chernykh in November 2014. He falsely signed an immigration form and falsely declared he was living with her so she could obtain legal residence status in the United States, according to authorities.
In one exchange of messages, Marquez and Chernykh discussed their anxiety about their upcoming immigration interview because of their lack of contact with each other, according to the most recent indictment. Marquez said he was worried about being imprisoned for fraud, the indictment says.
Tatiana Farook and Syed Raheel Farook are accused of taking staged family photos of Marquez and Chernykh, establishing a joint checking account for them and creating a back-dated lease to give the illusion that they shared a home.
Rizwan Farook, 28, and wife Tashfeen Malik, 27, opened fire Dec. 2 at a social services center in San Bernardino, killing 14 people and wounding more than 20 others. They fled the scene but died hours later in a shootout with police.
U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker released a statement Thursday applauding the arrests.
"This is the latest step in the comprehensive investigation into the horrific attacks in San Bernardino last year that took the lives of 14 innocent Americans and deeply affected so many more," said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. "As I have said previously, we owe the victims, and the entire community of San Bernardino, a thorough investigation that uncovers all criminal activity surrounding these events.
"Today's arrests open a new phase in the process of bringing to justice all individuals who allegedly committed crimes that were uncovered during our exhaustive investigation. The charges also reflect the importance we place on statements made to law enforcement officials during a terrorism investigation. Those who lie to or conceal material information from law enforcement officers investigating terrorist acts will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
The FBI conducted another search in February at a Corona home connected to Raheel Farook. Authorities did not confirm the property searched Thursday was the same location searched in February.
Late last month, federal authorities said they successfully used a mysterious technique without Apple Inc.'s help to hack into the iPhone used by a gunman in a mass shooting in California, effectively ending a pitched court battle between the Obama administration and one of the world's leading technology companies.