A Russian immigrant who pretended to wed a close friend of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook so she could remain in the United States and collect benefits pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy, perjury and making false statements to federal officials.
Mariya Chernykh, 26, admitted the felony counts during an impromptu change-of-plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for Nov. 20 at the federal courthouse in Riverside.
Chernykh, who is facing 20 years in prison, is the second defendant to enter a guilty plea in the case, which stemmed from the FBI's investigation into the Dec. 2, 2015, massacre at the Inland Regional Center.
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"Two of the four defendants charged as a result of the investigation into the terrorist attack have now been convicted,'' said U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker. "These convictions signify important progress in the ongoing investigation and prosecution of all those connected to the attack.
"Today's guilty pleas are further proof that law enforcement has doggedly investigated all leads ... as we continue our efforts to bring justice to the community.''
On Jan. 10, Syed Raheel Farook, 31, admitted a conspiracy charge connected to the sham marriage between Chernykh and Enrique Marquez Jr. Syed Farook is the elder sibling of jihadi terrorist Sayeed Rizwan Farook, 28, who killed 14 people and wounded nearly two dozen during a shooting spree that he and his wife, 27-year-old Tashfeen Malik, perpetrated at the IRC following a Christmas party there.
The pair, who had reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS, were killed hours later during a gun battle with law enforcement.
Syed Farook is slated to be sentenced on Nov. 13. He's married to Chernykh's sister, 31-year-old Tatiana Farook, who is also charged with conspiracy. She, like her co-defendants, is free on bond and slated to be tried in March.
The indictment alleged that the threesome conspired to obtain immigration benefits for Chernykh, who entered into the bogus marriage with Marquez after being introduced to him by the Farooks.
Marquez was indicted last January for allegedly supplying Sayed Farook and Malik with the semiautomatic rifles that they used to perpetrate the IRC killing spree.
According to federal authorities, Marquez and Chernykh went all-out to make their fake nuptials appear legitimate, taking staged family pictures, creating a joint checking account and a back-dated lease that implied they shared a marital residence.
Marquez and Chernykh allegedly signed immigration documents, under penalty of perjury, falsely stating that they both lived at the same address.
Investigators said Marquez received money from Chernykh as part of the arrangement. She lives with another man in Ontario.
Marquez's trial is tentatively scheduled for late March.