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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A Church of England vicar who oversaw hundreds of sham marriages to help migrants settle illegally in Britain was jailed for four years on Monday.
The Reverend Alex Brown, 61, presided over 360 bogus ceremonies over four years at his small parish church on the south coast of England.
Over that period, the scam, thought to be the biggest of its kind in Britain, involved East European women being paid up to 3,000 pounds ($4,600) a time to help the men, mostly Nigerians, by-pass UK immigration laws and settle in Britain.
In several cases participants canceled one wedding only to marry someone else a month or two later, and in another, a person was registered to marry two people on the same day, the Press Association reported.
Of the hundreds of people Brown married at his church, 90 couples were registered as living on one road in the parish and in some cases several brides and grooms claimed to live in the same house.
To avoid suspicion, the sham marriages were carried out outside normal church hours, very rarely on a Saturday, and did not involve those who normally took part in genuine marriages, such as the regular organist.
The banns -- announcements of forthcoming weddings -- were not posted so as not to alert the congregation to so many unfamiliar-sounding names.
Lewes Crown Court heard how he repeatedly abused his position at his church in St Leonards, East Sussex, which saw a 30-fold rise in marriages over the previous four years.
Co-defendants, "recruiter" Vladymyr Buchak, 33, and solicitor and pastor Michael Adelasoye, 50, were also jailed for four years.
The gang were caught following an investigation by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) after caseworkers noticed a surge in immigration applications involving people who had married at the church.
Judge Richard Hayward also handed Brown a five-month sentence after he pleaded guilty to solemnizing a marriage according to the rites of the Church of England without the banns being properly read.
The two sentences will run concurrently.
Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Steve Addison