Former head of public defender's office pleads guilty to marriage scam

Wednesday, August 1, 2007 | 1:56 p.m. CDT; updated 10:23 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

ST. LOUIS - The former head of the state public defender's office in St. Louis has pleaded guilty to federal charges of arranging a sham marriage to keep his boyfriend in the U.S., the Web site for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reported Tuesday that Eric Affholter entered the federal plea agreement Monday.

Affholter admitted in the plea that he and his boyfriend, Pedro Cerna-Rojas, recruited Affholter's employee, Collette Lewis, to marry Cerna-Rojas in the late summer or early fall of 2004.

Lewis agreed to the arrangement, according to the plea agreement. She traveled with Affholter, Cerna-Rojas and her boyfriend, Timothy J. O'Leary to Las Vegas and married Cerna-Rojas on Dec. 20.

O'Leary was an assistant circuit attorney in St. Louis but has since resigned, as did Lewis and Affholter after news of a criminal investigation became public in May.

Immigration law allows a foreign national who marries a U.S. citizen to obtain permanent residence. But the law does not recognize gay marriage, nor does it allow for sponsorship of a same-sex partner.

Officials learned that Affholter and Cerna-Rojas were longtime roommates. Cerna-Rojas originally entered the U.S. on a visitor visa in 2000 and was granted a student visa later that year as he attended Webster University. That visa expired in 2004.

U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway said the marriage was never consummated and Cerna-Rojas went back to living with Affholter.

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