Former Kansas soldier Joshua Priest was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison after being charged with entering into a sham marriage in order to get additional military benefits and so that his Jamaican bride could become a legal U.S. immigrant. A federal judge ruled in the nuptial scheme case on Monday, claiming that no leniency was justified considering the crime that Priest committed.
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Priest, a former Fort Riley private, pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and wire fraud. He also testified against his wife, Shannakay Hunter. Even with the plea, the Kansas federal judge claimed that Priest has a "higher responsibility" than others since he took an oath to serve the country, one that he ultimately violated.
"The fact you came in and cooperated is fine, but it doesn't excuse what you did. The worst part of it, Mr. Priest, is that you were a member of our armed forces," U.S. District Judge Monti Belot said in court on Monday.
Priest was also ordered to pay approximately $30,000 in restitution for the fraudulently obtained housing and subsistence benefits given to married soldiers.
Priest's wife Hunter was convicted in August of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud and lying to the government. She will be sentenced Nov. 26. Given Priest's complete corporation in the case brought against Hunter, his attorneys believed the judge would agree to give him a lighter sentence. They insist Priest was having "money problems" and made an honest mistake, but he has a very bright future still ahead of him. It doesn't appear that the judge agreed.
Before his sentencing, Priest offered this apology: "I learned my lesson. I don't plan to do anything like that again."
Judge Belot wasn't hearing it - he claimed the "only benefit" Priest would get from the government's motion was the chance to voluntarily surrender at the prison and not be taken into immediate custody.