Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Love for Sale: Maria-Helena Knoller’s Marriage Brokering Business

Maria-Helena Knoller has apparently had a pretty lucrative little business as a marriage broker going for a while.

Too bad a sharp-eyed Vermont Town Clerk, Annette Cappy, began noticing something a bit odd about the couples coming into her office for a marriage license.

“They showed no signs of affection,’’ Cappy recalled in a recent interview. “Often it was as if they didn’t know each other.’’ In some cases, she said, the couples did not speak the same language.

Well, no comment on whether those are telltale signs that would naturally arouse suspicion, although I do guess that not speaking the same language language might raise an eyebrow – as opposed to speaking the language of Venus vs. the language of Mars, which has been known to happen even in the most simpatico of couples.

But Cappy was on to something, or, rather, someone. And that someone was one Maria-Helena Knoller who, when the feds called on her in her Holyoky home, found:

$117,000 in cash and evidence far more suggestive: 61 gold rings at the ready for upcoming nuptials, and a ledger containing records of 70 couples already wed.

Good to have some cash on hand. And these days, gold is a compelling alternative. Still, 61 bands of gold does seem to beat the (wedding) band.

What Knoller was up to was helping illegal immigrants from Brazil – her home and native land – find Americans willing to tie the knot so that the illegals could live happily ever after, if not in marital bliss, then as permanent residents of the U.S.

As that $117K in walking-around money may suggest, Knoller wasn’t doing this out of the goodness of her heart, or for political reasons. She was charging fees of up to $12,000 for her matchmaking skills. And un-matchmaking skills. Knoller was full-service: she took care of follow-on divorces, as well.

The fee may seem high, but green cards are still pretty darned priceless. Plus she had expenses: the brides and grooms for hire commanded a hefty $6K pay-off for participating in the not so “wedding of their dreams.”

The Brazilians face deportation; the willing Americans are apparently not being prosecuted. What with the high unemployment rate these days, I suppose they’re looked upon as junior entrepreneurs.

Still, the late-great Elizabeth Taylor aside, you can only get married so many times. But as a yenta, well, Knoller lived pretty well. Her piece of the American dream is a home in Holyoke and a couple of rental properties in Chicopee.

Now working at a donut shop and awaiting her upcoming hearing, Knoller had logged some time working for an immigration lawyer in Springfield before putting out her own shingle in 2005.

Her practice incorporated elements of do-it-yourself lawyering, and the venerable house party. She would hold parties to which she invited eager-to-stay Brazilians and Americans (mostly from Puerto Rico, I guess figuring that Spanish and Portuguese are both close enough to the universal language of love such that each “I do” was understandable to the insignificant/significant other).

Knoller took care of it all: paperwork, translators, wedding photos, coaching on “what to wear, how to act” and how “to tell an [immigration] officer a story of love and marriage.”

Now, Knoller faces up to 10 years in prison as well as forfeiture of her Holyoke home and the two rental properties - and deportation to Brazil.

Wonder what her clients will do if they run into her, say, on the beach in Ipanema?

I wouldn’t want to be in her sandals, no matter how soft and tan and young and lovely she may well be.

Source: Boston Globe.

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