Federal prosecutors have announced charges against six people in a “birth tourism” fraud and money laundering scheme on Long Island.
According to authorities, the scheme had been going on for more than three years. They say the international ring brought pregnant women from Turkey to Suffolk County for something called “birth tourism.”
“Birth tourism” is basically a trip to the United States for the purpose of giving birth in this country, which would then grant the baby U.S. citizenship, officials say. The individuals are accused of promoting the operation on Facebook with ads.
In total officials say 117 Turkish mothers gave birth to 119 children on Long Island as a result of that scheme. Authorities say the mothers stayed at so-called “birth houses.”
There were seven of those homes located in communities like Smithtown, East Northport, Dix Hills, Center Moriches, West Babylon and East Patchogue.
Investigators say the defendants also defrauded the Medicaid system out of about $2.1 million because they claimed the mothers were New York residents who had no money. However, authorities say many of them were wealthy, paying as much as $10,000 each to take part in the scheme.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart says they caught on to the scheme after a Town of Smithtown employee noticed an irregularity while registering birth certificates.
“It started when information was provided to detectives about birth certificates obtained by five Turkish women, all with the same address, who had babies at around the same time. At first it was not clear if any criminality was involved. But thanks to the tenacity and hard work of our detectives and our partners, and the countless hours they put in, a case came together and unveiled a birth tourism ring,” says Hart.
Officials say the women who came to the United States to give birth are not targets of the criminal investigation. In fact, many of them are already back in Turkey. As for their children, they will likely keep their United States citizenship for the rest of their lives.