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Actress's lawyer: Reality star Klinko knows about sham marriages

By Alan Duke, CNN
  • NEW: Markus Klinko denies he also had a sham marriage
  • Fernanda Romero is on trial for using a sham marriage to get a work visa
  • "Double Exposure" star Markus Klinko is a key prosecution witness
  • Klinko denies he turned his ex-girlfriend in to the feds

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- The trial of a Mexican soap opera star -- accused of paying an American to marry her so she could work into the United States -- will also feature a star from a U.S. reality show.

Celebrity photographer Markus Klinko, star of Bravo's "Double Exposure," hired an investigator to gather evidence of Fernanda Romero's alleged sham marriage, according to prosecution and defense documents.

Romero, 28, was arrested on marriage fraud charges in April and her federal trial begins Tuesday in Los Angeles. Her husband is also accused.

She would never have been prosecuted if Klinko had not personally financed an investigation of his former girlfriend and delivered the results to immigration agents, the defense said.

"Klinko went to great lengths to see to it that this case was criminally prosecuted and ... did so because of his animus toward defendant Fernanda Romero," a defense petition said.

When Klinko, 49, takes the stand as a prosecution witness, the defense will try to prove that the Swiss native engaged in his own sham marriage two decades earlier, according to a defense document filed in court.

A Texas woman, in a sworn statement filed with the court, said Klinko paid her $20,000 for a sham marriage in 1987.

"The marriage between Markus and me was done for the sole purpose of allowing Markus Klinko to obtain a green card," Victoria Waisman said in a sworn statement filed with the court.

The Klinko-Waisman marriage ended after just four months and was never used for a green card application, the defense document said. Klinko married another woman a day after his divorce from Waisman was finalized. It was through that second marriage that Klinko obtained a U.S. work visa, the defense said.

"As the Waisman evidence shows, Klinko was quite familiar with the crime of marriage fraud, thus was able to construct a somewhat believable case against the defendants," a defense petition said.

Klinko, through an attorney, denied to CNN the accusation that he had been involved in a sham marriage.

Klinko earlier denied to CNN that he personally sought to have Romero, his one-time girlfriend, prosecuted. It was his lawyer who gathered and presented the evidence to immigration officials, he said.

He said it was not because he was angry over their breakup, but it was part of a legal battle with Romero and Michael Ball, the owner of the Rock & Republic clothing company. Romero was then a model for Ball's company.

Klinko said he turned the evidence over to the government because he feared extortion from Ball and Romero.

The former lawyer, Anthony Lopresti, said in a filing in Klinko's bankruptcy case that it was Klinko who hired the investigator "to pursue the criminal prosecution and/or deportation of Ms. Romero." The investigation, which Klinko insisted on, was "outside the scope" of the lawsuit, Lopresti said.

Romero has appeared in at least 15 television shows and films since 2005, according to the Internet Movie Database, when prosecutors allege she paid Kent Ross, a pizza deliveryman and musician, to marry her.

The prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Left, said Romero could get between 15 and 21 months in prison if convicted, though such cases usually produce shorter sentences.

The case is unusual because marriage fraud charges are usually litigated by immigration authorities rather than prosecuted as criminal cases.

The federal complaint accused Romero of paying Ross, 28, to marry her on June 12, 2005, but alleges they never lived together as a couple.

Romero began dating Klinko a month later, and they lived together for several months, the complaint said. According to a sworn affidavit by ICE Senior Special Agent Bonita Canterberry filed in the case, Klinko and Romero's relationship ended in 2007, about the same time Klinko filed a lawsuit against Rock & Republic jeans company and its owner, Ball, alleging breach of contract in relation to a photo shoot. Klinko also accused Ball of extortion.

"In connection with the civil suit, Klinko's attorney and private investigators looked into the claim that Ball had arranged for the sham marriage between Romero and Ross. Klinko and his attorney turned over to ICE documentation and findings from their investigation, which, in turn, led to the government's investigation into Romero's marriage to Ross," Canterberry's affidavit says

The complaint names Michael Ball as a target of the federal investigation, alleging that he helped arrange the sham marriage while Romero was modeling for his company.

Romero's show business career began in Mexico at age 16 when she joined the ensemble Frizzby, her Internet Movie Database biography says. The group toured Mexico and Central America, releasing two top-10 singles, it says.

She started hosting television shows and appearing on commercials in Mexico when she was 18, it says.

Romero has appeared in print and TV ad campaigns for Rock and Republic, Clean and Clear, Pepsi, Apple and JC Penney, it says.

"She was cast in Telemundo's original production 'Wounded Soul,' where she was not only a lead actress, but also a lead singer, performing two songs in the soap opera's soundtrack," her biography says.