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The Russian bride scam

As Gary Oldenkamp tells the story of being caught in a scam to bring a Russian bride to this country, he reveals strong feelings of betrayal.“Not only was I taken advantage of by the woman I hoped to spend the rest of my life with, but local officials decided to take her side, even after I gave them proof of what was happening.”

Oldenkamp’s story of exploitation began innocently in 2002, when he decided to enroll in an online Russian brides dating service.The Hull resident was 38 years-of-age at the time, divorced for one year and interested in dating again.He was contacted by a woman named Elana, who lived in Russia, was a year older than him, also divorced and she had a daughter.Elana worked as an English translator so language was not a barrier.

The two corresponded for six months by email and phone before Oldenkamp flew to Moscow to meet her.

“Initially, I wasn’t interested in meeting women from other counties,” said Oldenkamp.“But as the relationship progressed I began to think of all the advantages.There wouldn’t be an ex-husband around to deal with and no in-law problems.I thought it was a situation I could control.Plus, I believed that Russian brides were soft, docile and calm.Boy was I wrong.”

According to the American University Trade and Environment database website, the majority of men who participate in services for Russian brides are white, educated, around 37 years old, and are ideologically conservative.These men are tired of ‘career-obsessed women’ and see Russian brides as less materialistic and more appreciative of men.Russian brides are seen as more feminine and more traditional.

Oldenkamp spent a week in Moscow in January 2003, and before he left, asked Elana to marry him.

“She told me everything I wanted to hear.She was very charming, soft and pretty,” he said.“Spending time with her was fun, much better than the usual dating.She was everything I was looking for.And her daughter was very quiet and respectful.Looking back, she told me everything I wanted to hear.”

Oldenkamp returned to Hull and began working on the paperwork to bring Elana and her 13 year-old daughter, Sasha, to the United States.She finally arrived in Hull in March of 2004 with a six month visa.

They were married on March 20, 2004 in Oldenkamp’s home.Afterwards they traveled to Omaha so Elana and Sasha could begin the two-year process of getting a Green Card, or permanent residence in the United States.According to the U.S. Immigration Service, the process of completing and submitting a request for a Green Card through marriage to a U.S. citizen can be both costly and confusing.

But Elana had a back-up plan.

“The first six months of the marriage went pretty well,” said Oldenkamp.“We agreed that she should take a year to settle in before she found a job.We disagreed when I wouldn’t hire a maid for her.”

But then the relationship started to fray a little.Elana had a car and a driver’s license but demanded that Oldenkamp come home from work each morning to drive Sasha to school, which was only a few blocks away.“Elana just didn’t want to get out of bed to do it,” he explained.

“She also wanted to take big trips and a huge allowance for clothes.”

The following March, when Elana had been in the country for one year, Oldenkamp reminded her of their agreement that she should find a job.While she refused to look for a job, instead she forgot Gary’s birthday and their first anniversary.“That hurt,” he recalled.

In June Elana got a job at the Marshall Field’s store in Sioux Falls, but soon was tired of the long drive and asked Oldenkamp to pay for an apartment in Sioux Falls so she could live there during the week.

“I overlooked a lot during the first year,” he recalled.“But by then she had dropped the act of being the loving wife and I realized she had told me a lot of lies.She only wanted someone who could give her unlimited amounts of money.”

“I realized I’d made a big mistake and was already thinking about ending the marriage.”

The couple’s arguments about money continued throughout the summer.

On September 14, she again demanded an apartment in Sioux Falls and Oldenkamp told her to move, but he wasn’t going to help her.She claimed that he had promised her more money, and in a rage jumped on him and tried choking him.“She wasn’t really hurting me,” he said.But she was out of control, and my son from my first marriage was staying with me that evening and I was concerned for him.I tried to call 911, but she started hitting the phone out of my hands, kicking and scratching me.”

Oldenkamp and his son finally got outside to the car, locked the doors and called for help.

“Then Elana came running outside screaming, help me,” he recalled.“I thought it was some kind of a joke, so I rolled down the window and told her she’d get more attention if she ran over to the Casey’s Store.And that’s what she did.”

A Sioux County deputy first responded to Oldenkamp’s home and as he was talking to Gary, the deputy got a call about a woman calling for help from Casey’s.

And then Oldenkamp’s nightmare began.Elana claimed that he had abused her.She had scratches on her neck, which he found out later Sasha had inflicted, so her mother would be ‘more believable’.

Oldenkamp and Elana both made statements to Deputy Oostra, but Elana didn’t mention any choking incident in her statement.Later Oldenkamp was charged with choking Elana and Oldenkamp was sure the deputy prompted her to make that accusation.

“I thought it was so obvious that she was making the whole thing up,” stated Oldenkamp.“Why would I call for help if I was abusing her?But the deputy said someone had to be arrested, so I spent the night in jail.”

“To understand this incident you have to know about the Violence Against Women Act of 1996,” said Oldenkamp.“There is a little piece in it that states if an immigrant is abused by her husband or other family member, and can prove the abuse, then they become admitted for permanent residence.Elana was going to get her green card with or without me.”

Elana was taken to the Family Crisis Center and two days later she was taken to Des Moines to stay with a cousin, Alex, also a Russian immigrant.

Two months later, Oldenkamp received a surprise call from Alex, who wanted to help him.

“Soon after arriving in Des Moines, Elana proudly confessed how easily she had convinced everyone of the abuse,” said Oldenkamp.“By this time she’d contacted the Iowa Coalition against sexual assault and abuse and claimed that he’d sexually abused her and verbally sexually abused Sasha.Her plan was to sue me for a large monetary settlement.Plus if she could get me on the assault charges, her green card was guaranteed.”

The cousin also explained that Elana was looking for a rich, lavish lifestyle in the United States, but living in Hull with Gary wasn’t what she hoped for.

Fortunately for Oldenkamp, Alex was having the same problems with Elana and Sasha.They wanted to be pampered but didn’t want to contribute anything to the household.

According to Oldenkamp, Alex obtained a court order to kick Elana out of her home.Now she wanted to tell the truth about Elana.

Back in Sioux County, Oldenkamp had been charged with serious sexual assault, which is a felony.

But he and his lawyer began building the case of Elana’s deception.

Alex also told Oldenkamp that Elana had left her diary in Hull and he needed to find it.The diary was written in Russian, which Oldenkamp had translated and described her plans to deceive him by any means possible to find the wealthy lifestyle she was looking for.

His trial was set for May 9, 2006.“County Attorney Melissa O’Rourke told my lawyer that she set the date so far into the future because she hoped by then Elana would be on a plane back to Russia,” said Oldenkamp.“We showed her the evidence and I think she knew this charge had no merit but she didn’t want to back down.”

Last January, Oldenkamp’s lawyer was offered a plea bargain from Sioux County.“They would drop the charge of abuse to a simple misdemeanor,” he said.“But I would still be saying I was guilty of abusing her, which was a lie.Plus, Elana would still get her green card and I’d have to spend six months in anger management classes.That really made me angry.”

“I think O’Rourke just wanted to look good to the voters in an election year,” he added.“My lawyer and I were certain we had enough evidence to win the case, so I turned down the plea bargain.I started thinking maybe the state should prosecute O’Rourke.”

Coincidentally, Fox News was doing stories on Russian bride scams near the time of Oldenkamp’s trial.He discovered a support group of men who’d gone through the same problems with their Russian brides.Someone from that network gave his name to Fox News and they contacted him about covering his abuse trial.

Oldenkamp advised Fox News to contact the county about coverage.“The very next day my lawyer got a call from the attorney’s office saying they’d reduced the charge to interruption of a 911 call,” said Oldenkamp.“They just wanted to get rid of this case.”

His lawyer explained that the charge was similar to a speeding ticket; Oldenkamp wouldn’t have to take anger management classes and Elana would not receive her green card.He advised Oldenkamp to plead guilty to the charge.

So, two weeks ago he walked into the Sioux County courtroom and plead guilty.

“It was a lie,” he stated.“I didn’t interrupt any 911 call, but this whole incident has been about lies.“It started with a lie, was perpetuated by lies and ended with me telling a lie to make it go away.”

“I don’t feel like this county is my friend anymore.The sheriff’s department didn’t believe me.The Family Crisis Center wouldn’t even look at evidence of the scam and the county attorney’s office just played politics,” said Oldenkamp.“I’ve lived here my whole life, I go to work at a legitimate business, pay taxes and contribute to local causes.I keep wondering why they would treat me this way.”

He said Elana is still in Des Moines trying to get her green card.“As far as Elana is concerned, I feel like a gullible, stupid sap.But I’d never hurt anyone.I do plan to submit evidence to the authorities to keep Elana from staying in the U.S. though.”

The couple was divorced earlier this year. Oldenkamp shakes his head in disbelief when telling his account.“You couldn’t write a soap opera this good.”

 By Jeanne Visser

for Sioux County Index

© 2006 Sioux County Index Hull, Iowa. All Rights Reserved

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