Nail bar owner at 'centre of sham marriage web'

Trang Thi Thuy Luu, known as Louise, is being hunted by police investigating a sham marriage ring Photo: Lancashire Police

A Vietnamese nail bar owner who was the "spider at the centre of a web" of sham marriages is on the run, a court heard today.

Police are trying to trace Trang Thi Thuy Luu, known as Louise, who was the chief organiser of a "carefully orchestrated operation" to match UK nationals to her friends and family in bogus ceremonies.

The 24-year-old used her connections as owner of three salons in Preston, Chorley and Blackburn to entice three Britons into sham weddings between 2008 and 2010.

Preston Crown Court heard it enabled her friends and family to successfully apply to the Home Office for visas to remain in Britain.

Kevin Donnelly, 34, of Oswaldtwistle, and Amanda Nolan, 28, also of Blackburn, pleaded guilty at earlier hearings to taking part in sham marriages.

Jason Proctor, 40, of Blackburn, was found guilty of the offence after an earlier trial.

Donnelly also admitted to being a witness at a fake ceremony, as did Gemma Nelson, 28, of Blackburn, and Denny Wallace, 22, of Blackburn.

Elizabeth Nicholls, prosecuting, said Louise was at the centre of the conspiracy in her role as manager of the Miss Nails parlours.

"It would appear her contact with these defendants was via those nail parlours," she said.

"It is the Crown's case that she arranged her own sham marriage and then went on make arrangements to facilitate the marriages of friends and relatives."

But the prosecutor said "the edifice of these marriages came tumbling down" following the sham wedding in October 2010 at Blackburn Register Office of Nolan to a man called Tuan Hoang Lu, believed to have worked at Miss Nails.

"The following day the blushing bride booked a holiday and paid in cash for herself and a John Doyle," she said.

She used her payment of £4,000 to fund a trip to Mexico five days later.

Miss Nicholls said: "Unfortunately Miss Nolan and Mr Doyle fell out and later the police were to obtain a statement from Mr Doyle who confirmed that the money for the holiday had come from her being paid for a sham marriage.

"It is right to say that the police had already received anonymous calls indicating that Miss Nolan had received a lot of money and had gone through a sham marriage."

The police went on to check CCTV footage of the reception venue at Whitehall Country Club in Darwen which showed a number of Chinese guests behaving appropriately for the occasion but saw Nolan and friends under the influence of alcohol and treating the whole occasion as "a joke".

Nolan was arrested in February 2011 and made no comment.

Police then attended Louise's home address in Castleton Road, Preston, later that month where also present was her partner, Dat Van Vu, and a woman called Thi Le.

Documents that were "stock in trade" for bogus weddings including passports, birth certificates and cards between the parties of the marriages were discovered.

Miss Nicholls said: "Miss Luu was arrested and bailed. Thereafter all the occupants of that house simply disappeared without trace.

"However the documentation inquiries led the police to discover the other sham marriages."

Donnelly entered a sham marriage with Louise in October 2008 at Blackburn Register Office, which was witnessed by Nelson and another woman.

Both Donnelly and Louise went their separate ways after the ceremony.

He was said to have received £1,500 as payment.

Proctor married Thi Le in October 2010 with the same registrar, with Donnelly as a witness, which enabled Le's student visa to be renewed.

Proctor was paid around £2,000 and Donnelly £500 as a witness.

Nolan's wedding was witnessed by Wallace.

Miss Nicholls said that another woman, Sarah Hesketh, who was a customer at Miss Nails, was also propositioned to take part in a sham wedding with Louise's partner Dat Van Vu.

The prosecutor said: "She was offered £10,000 but had got cold feet and had not gone through with it."

Mark Stuart, representing Nelson, said his client met Louise at the nail bar and she offered to train her as a nail technician in return for acting as a witness.

Also defending Donnelly and Proctor, Mr Stuart asked Judge Michael Byrne to suspend their inevitable custodial sentences on the grounds they were not involved in organising the crime and in effect were exploited, albeit they were rewarded.

Mr Stuart said Donnelly was homeless in 2008 and used the payment to fund his drug habit.

The court heard Nolan was a customer at Miss Nails and was penniless at the time.

The mother-of-one had just come out of a violent relationship and told her story of woe in conversation at the beauty parlour.

"Naivety" and her need for cash led her to agreeing to undergo the sham marriage.

She received £4,000 and an extra £1,000 on the day of the "wedding".

Wallace was also offered the enticement of being taught how to cut nails if she performed the role of a witness.

Nolan, of Windsor Road; Proctor, of Princess Street; Donnelly, of Thwaites Road, Wallace, of Preston New Road, and Nelson, of Whalley New Road, will be sentenced on March 12.

All defendants were bailed until that date.

Miss Nicholls said it was the Crown's position that Louise was part of "a large organisation", given that she disappeared so quickly and effectively.

In addition, the nail bars were taken over by other Vietnamese nationals.