A Mexican soap opera star accused of entering a sham marriage to stay in the United States was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail after admitting she lied during an immigration proceeding.
Fernanda Romero and her husband, Kent Ross, were both expected to avoid serving time as a result of plea bargains in the case.
However, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real noted the seriousness of the crime _ the two pleaded guilty to making false statements _ and ordered both to start serving their sentences on weekends beginning in June.
Prosecutors recommended Romero pay a $5,000 fine and serve five years' probation. Real agreed with placing Romero and Ross, both 28, on probation but did not require either of them to pay a fine.
"It's disappointing," one of Romero's attorneys, Vicki Podberesky, said after the hearing. "Ms. Romero is remorseful for what happened.
The Mexican-born actress has had bit roles in U.S. films such as the 2009 horror movie "Drag Me To Hell," but is perhaps best known for appearing in the Mexican soap opera "Eternamente Tuya," which means "eternally yours."
Romero and Ross' lives for the past year have played out like a telenova, with federal agents arresting them last April on suspicion of duping immigration officials about their marital status.
The couple maintain they love each other, but say their marriage fell apart partially because their courtship was so quick. The couple are not divorced.
Several former acquaintances testified against the pair at a trial last summer. And federal prosecutors presented evidence that Romero and Ross lived in separate homes, contrary to information the two provided on immigration forms.
Prosecutors also said the pair dated other people and essentially lived separate lives.
A mistrial was declared in September after jurors reported deliberations had grown hostile. A retrial was set for February, and Romero and Ross each faced five years in prison if convicted of marriage fraud and other charges. The two ended up pleading guilty to the lesser false-statement charges.
According to court documents, Romero admitted lying when she claimed Ross and her mother "hung out all the time." Ross, a musician and restaurant worker, admitted he lied when he said he and Romero lived together. Prosecutors contended Ross was paid $5,000 to marry Romero so she could obtain permanent residency.
A tearful Romero apologized for her actions during sentencing.
"This has made me grow and made me a better person," she told the judge.
Her attorneys asked for home detention and noted she has some acting commitments. But Real used his discretion, which allowed him to give Romero and Ross up to six months in prison.
"I think it was a serious offense for both of them," the judge said.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney James Left said his office has charged people with marriage fraud before and cited extensive evidence against Romero and Ross as a reason for bringing charges against them.
Podberesky, though, said officials made an example of her client because she is an actress.
"There are thousands of these cases, and there aren't thousands of these cases in federal court," she said.
Romero is involved in an immigration hearing and could be deported depending on the evidence presented by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.