NORFOLK -- Sixteen years ago, Jennifer Zamora's aunt offered her $6,000 to marry her Filipino cousin so that he could become a citizen here.
They never lived as husband and wife and divorced in 2003, according to court documents.
But the deception did not end there.
The year after their divorce, the cousin died in a car accident. At that point, Zamora applied for Social Security benefits, stating that her ex-husband was the father of two of her children.
Over eight years, she received about $1,600 a month, a federal prosecutor told a judge during a sentencing hearing Wednesday. By the time someone tipped off authorities, Zamora had received a total of $177,367.
The punishment: four months in prison.
The 35-year-old Virginia Beach woman pleaded guilty to theft of government money in October.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Dougherty argued for a sentence within the federal sentencing guidelines of a year to 18 months.
Zamora's lawyer, Larry Dash, told the judge his client was a good candidate for an alternative sentence such as house arrest. He said it would allow her to work and begin making restitution.
The attorney had submitted about 21 letters to the judge from friends and family who wrote on her behalf. Given a chance to speak, Zamora cried as she expressed her remorse.
U.S. District Judge Mark S. Davis noted positive aspects of Zamora's life, including her work history, but also the seriousness of the offense, saying he could not give her "a simple slap on the wrist" and send her home.
Still, he gave her a sentence that was far less than the low end of federal guidelines. The judge also ordered Zamora upon her release to make restitution payments of the greater of $200 per month or 25 percent of her net income.
Dash, reached later, said neither he nor his client wanted to comment.