Then-acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme talks to reporters on...

Then-acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme talks to reporters on Dec. 2, 2020, about an alleged Turkish "birth tourism" ring operating out of Suffolk County. Credit: James Carbone

An East Patchogue man pleaded guilty Friday for his role in what federal prosecutors call a "birth tourism" operation in which pregnant Turkish nationals paid up to $10,000 to give birth in Suffolk County so their children can have U.S. citizenship.

Ibrahim Aksakal, 49, faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in federal court in Central Islip before U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert to conspiring to commit health care and wire fraud, said Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The "birth tourism" operation took place in the county between 2017 and 2020, federal prosecutors said.

"With today’s plea, Aksakal admits to an outrageous scheme in which he caused the Medicaid program to disburse more than $1 million in benefits for pregnant Turkish nationals who, masquerading as tourists, entered the United States under false pretenses to obtain birthright citizenship for their newborns," Kasulis said Friday in a statement.

Prosecutors said Aksakal and five co-conspirators, mostly Long Island residents with Turkish backgrounds, advertised and recruited women on two Turkish-language Facebook pages. Their titles in English roughly translate to "Giving Birth in America" and "My baby should be born in America," federal prosecutors said.

Officials said language on the page included "[W]e … will provide future mothers and fathers this opportunity, with minimal costs …"

Aksakal and his co-conspirators instructed the women to conceal their pregnancies, federal prosecutors said. While the women were in the United States, they lived in so-called "birth houses" in West Babylon, Center Moriches, Dix Hills, East Northport, East Patchogue and Smithtown, which Aksakal maintained, officials said.

At the time officials announced the arrest in December, then-Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said police received a tip from an unidentified Smithtown clerk after seeing five pregnant women in the same home over a short period. Officials at the time said 117 women gave birth to 119 children.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office along with agents from Homeland Security Investigations joined in the case along with federal prosecutors.

"This was an extremely complex, international investigation that led law enforcement to the core of this scheme right here in our backyard," said Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini in a statement.

As part of Aksakal’s guilty plea, he consented to the forfeiture of $397,500, federal prosecutors said.

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