HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — There was a crackdown Wednesday on an alleged birth tourism fraud ring on Long Island.
Prosecutors say more than 100 pregnant women from Turkey came this country to give birth to babies to instantly be granted U.S. citizenship. They then allegedly used benefits like Medicaid, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.READ MORE: New York Weather: CBS2’s 12/1 Wednesday Morning Forecast
An alert Smithtown town employee noticed a strange pattern of birth certificates — five babies from one house at one time. An investigation led to an international fraud scheme, an alleged birth tourism ring operating on Long Island for three years.
“The defendants fraudulently facilitated the births in the United States of approximately 119 Turkish children, and those children now hold birthright U.S. citizenship,” said Eastern District Acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme.
The 14th Amendment grants citizenship to any child born in the U.S., but officials say in this case ring leaders brazenly advertised in Turkey: “If you believe your baby should be born in the USA and become an American citizen, you are in the right place.”
What’s alleged to be illegal is lies to obtain travel visas and fraudulent Medicaid claims for babies and moms who stayed at seven birth houses across Suffolk County. Prosecutors allege women paid up to $10,000 each for accommodations and free health care paid by U.S. taxpayers.
“They are doing it on the backs of taxpayers. They’re milking the Medicaid system,” Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini said.
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Six people were arrested and charged with money laundering and $2 million in Medicaid fraud.
Birth tourism has gotten the attention of President Donald Trump, who recently closed some loopholes.
“It is estimated that over 30,000 child births occurred in the United States. last year alone in connection with this practice,” said Christopher Lau of the Department of Homeland Security.
Prosecutors say the arrests are not about stopping immigration, but instead those who game the system.
“The desire to have a child born in the United States is understandable, but the methods and means employed by these criminals are both unlawful and completely unacceptable,” DuCharme said.
Medical care in the homes is questionable. Prosecutors said the defendants are selfish individuals who see dollar signs instead of children.MORE NEWS: Nets Edge Knicks On James Johnson's Free Throws
The defendants entered not guilty pleas at virtual arraignments late Wednesday. The mothers who participated were not charged.