Beach teacher in prison for marriage fraud fights to overturn conviction

Posted at 11:20 PM, Oct 02, 2012

A NewsChannel 3 investigation first introduced you to a young man in Virginia Beach who wants to be a Navy surgeon.

But instead, he's being kicked out of the country.

He didn't do anything but his mother was convicted for creating a fake family.

It's been a dramatic fall for Natallia Liapina. A year ago, the woman from Belarus was married to a doctor, living in Virginia Beach with her teenage son. She landed a job as a Russian teacher at Tallwood High School, where her colleagues adored her.

But then came the prosecutors. They said all this was a hoax, an elaborate fraud to get Natallia a green card.

Previous: Man fighting deportation due to accusations of marriage fraud against family

According to prosecutors, Natallia's husband, Armando, was actually in love with Natallia's oldest son. The two men carried on a romantic relationship, the prosecutors said. And to please Danil, prosecutors claimed Armando agreed to marry Danil's mother so she could live in America.

Natallia and her sons deny all of this.

Danil said there was no romantic relationship with Armando. He was already married to an American woman named Victoria. And Ivan, Natallia's youngest, said this was a real family.

No one who worked with Natallia at Tallwood believes any part of the government's case. Teachers stepped forward to tell NewsChannel 3 Natallia was not only a good teacher, but a good person.

“It's so upsetting because it is the opposite of who she is. They are telling her that you are dishonest in all that you did here, and she was the epitome of honesty and integrity in everything that she did,” says one of the teachers.

All of this happened, Ivan says, because his sister-in-law got jealous. Danil and Victoria split up. According to court records and interviews, when Victoria found out there was another woman, she went to the authorities and declared the marriage a fraud. She essentially turned herself in, and said her marriage to Danil was fake.

Danil told us that even after his wife reported him, they got back together and remarried. But that didn't end the investigation. In fact, it broadened to include Natallia.  Danil's family says jailhouse phone calls between Danil and Victoria reveal a real marriage.

The dozens of calls show they fought, a lot, about money mostly. They talked about sex. And Victoria revealed she was angry Danil had left her for someone else.

None of this was allowed in court. According to court testimony, Victoria helped prosecutors after they promised not to charge her. She would not agree to an interview for this story. Prosecutors said there were at least three other Americans involved in this conspiracy, but no one else was arrested.

In the end, these teachers say the school system has lost an excellent instructor to a prosecution that, in their eyes, was way off the mark. They are hoping Natallia can appeal and one day return to teaching.

“It's unfair because I know all my family, including me, including Vanya, including Danil, worked hard in this country,” says Natallia.

As for Ivan, whom his mother calls Vanya, he worries he'll be forced from the country. The government says if his mother's immigration paperwork is fake, then his isn't valid either.

The Liapin family has set up a fund to pay for an appeal.

Facebook page for the Liapin Family Defense Fund:!/LiapinFamilyDefenseCause?fref=ts

Statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, on why none of the four accused Americans were prosecuted in this case:

“Over the past five years, the Eastern District of Virginia has charged more than 120 people with marriage fraud, including both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. Decisions on whether to bring charges in a criminal case are guided by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Principles of Federal Prosecution. While we do not disclose the reasons why a person associated with a case may not be charged, these principles state that we must consider the evidence at hand, the person’s culpability in connection with the offense, their previous criminal activity, and their willingness to cooperate, among several other factors.”

I’d also point you to what we stated in our sentencing position paper for Mr. Lyapin:

Danil Lyapin tried no less than four times with fraudulent marriages to get permanent residence in the United States. Mr. Lyapin deliberately broke down his spouses through repeated mental attacks which from time to time had a physical component. During these “green-card” marriages, Mr. Lyapin continued to date other women and carry on other relationships that further caused mental damage to some of his “wives” and girlfriends. One of these relationships was with Armando Figueroa. Mr. Lyapin and Mr. Figueroa, who was several decades his elder, carried on a romantic relationship for a period of years to allow Mr. Lyapin to use Mr. Figueroa resources to bank roll his lifestyle. Mr. Figueroa bought Mr. Lyapin cars and a restaurant. Still, as the evidence showed, this was not enough. Mr. Lyapin caused Mr. Figueroa to marry the defendant Ms. Liapina so she could also obtain a green-card. Ms. Liapina never had a bonafide marriage with Mr. Figueroa. Mr. Lyapin admitted to agents that Mr. Figueroa only married his mother as a favor to Mr. Lyapin.

The defendant’s conduct during the investigation far exceeded most of the other approximately 120 offenders the government has prosecuted over the past five years. This defendant was the only one to enter into three distinct marriage frauds. This defendant was particularly hard on his spouses and his girlfriends who were smart enough not to marry him. This defendant made fraudulent filings and set up at least fraudulent marriage with his mother.

Statement from Danil Lyapin’s wife, Victoria, (Natallia Liapina’s daughter-in-law), in declining to participate in this story:

I think it is highly inappropriate to air any story concerning me and my life, you know nothing about me and my life. However I respect freedom of speech do whatever you chose, those who know me and care for me know what the truth is, those who don't, I'm unconcerned what they think they know about me. Until they have walked a mile in my shoes they cannot begin to know anything about me and my life. Do what you feel is best. I have certainly in my life, in every aspect of it.