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Former University of North Dakota student accused of marraige fraud

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. - A sports bar and a quickie nuptials chapel in Grand Forks were the setting for a low-romance, cold-cash marriage between a former University of North Dakota student and a Bosnian woman seeking citizenship, according to charges in federal court against the groom.

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The plot came together at a table at Buffalo Wild Wings in Grand Forks in June 2008 when the couple first met, federal officials allege.

Details of the alleged marriage fraud are laid out by Eric Binstock, a special agent with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in Grand Forks, in his affidavit of probable cause.

Alma Numic was 26 that summer, a Bosnian citizen here looking for a way to stay in America. She and close friend Kristen Blessum cooked up a plan: find a U.S. man to marry Numic.

Friend Amy Kovarik suggested her co-worker Jeff Goble and introduced him to Numic and Blessum. He was 21, a UND student majoring in commercial aviation.

They all got together at Buffalo Wild Wings and arranged the marriage. There's no evidence Goble got on bended knee, but he did tell Numic he would marry her: for $15,000.

He knew it was dicey and "that he could get into trouble for taking part in this marriage," witnesses told investigators later.

Numic and Goble wed June 5, 2008, in the Fairy Tales Weddings chapel in Grand Forks, using a marriage license dated the same day.

On June 11, 2008, Numic signed a $5,000 check - from an account at Gate City Bank in Grand Forks that she held jointly with Blessum - payable to Goble.

On June 16, four minutes after Gate City Bank opened, Goble cashed it. Goble received two more $5,000 installments from Numic, Binstock says.

In December, Goble, now 23, left the United States for Bosnia, Blessum told investigators in April.

"Goble informed Blessum that Goble was scared to face criminal charges and stated, 'I don't want to go to prison,' " Binstock's affidavit alleges. "Goble informed Blessum that Goble planned to live in Sarajevo, Bosnia, for approximately three years until this criminal case disappeared."

But it's not clear that Goble ever went to Bosnia, where, apparently, Numic was by late 2009.

Court documents don't indicate any extradition.

The federal criminal complaint against Goble was filed April 27 in federal court in Grand Forks.

On May 4, Goble was arrested in Philadelphia by federal officials on the complaint. On May 5, a federal grand jury in Grand Forks indicted Goble for marriage fraud.

He's expected to be arraigned within the next two weeks. If convicted, he would face a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Numic is back in Bosnia and has not been charged, The Associated Press reported.

Marrying to gain citizenship is an age-old deal, but U.S. officials have paid more attention to it of late, partly in response to terrorist concerns since 9/11, according to published reports.

But Lynn Jordheim, acting U.S. attorney for North Dakota and a quarter-century veteran of the office in Fargo, said it's still a rare deal around here.

"We just don't see many," Jordheim said Wednesday.

He wouldn't speak about this case yet. But, generally, in such cases, "becoming a citizen or getting lawful status to stay in the United States is the main motivator," Jordheim said. "Some people participate for money."

Making such a case means looking at what usually is the most intimate of relationships. "You have to prove it was a sham marriage concocted for the purpose of meeting technical requirements to be lawfully in the United States," Jordheim said.

An inkling of the feds' opinion of this marriage can be seen in the phrasing in Binstock's affidavit: A "source of information" told investigators that "Numic had never known Goble before the wedding and that Goble was not with Numic after the wedding."

Kovarik and Nicole Dornheim, who also worked with Goble, told investigators Goble made it clear he married Numic for the money and so she could remain in the United States.

Blessum, who grew up near Rugby, N.D., and now lives in Seattle, told Binstock that Numic paid Goble $5,000 "before Goble moved to Seattle" and the remaining $10,000 later.

Numic also apparently has lived in the Seattle area.

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