- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) - In tearful, sometimes tense testimony, a Mexican-born actress and her husband accused of entering into a sham marriage said Tuesday they loved each other and intended to start a life together when they married in 2005.

Fernanda Romero and musician Kent Ross were among the last witnesses in the marriage fraud trial that could send the pair to federal prison for as long as five years if they are convicted.

Jury deliberations could begin Wednesday after closing arguments.

Throughout the three-day trial, prosecutors have shown numerous documents showing the couple maintained separate homes. In addition, witnesses said the pair told them their marriage was a fake _ a claim Romero and Ross deny.

Romero testified over two days about her modeling experience and work as an actress. She had a bit role in the film “Drag Me to Hell” but is probably best known in her native Mexico for her part on the TV Azteca soap opera “Eternamente Tuya.”

In testimony, the couple acknowledged deep rifts that developed within six months of their marriage but insisted they have a special relationship.

“It was very sudden, very immature, not well-thought out,” Ross told the jury. “I had a tiger by the tail. I wanted to keep her here.”

Romero described the early months of marriage as “loving, fun, passionate … It was the honeymoon phase.”

Ross acknowledged under questioning by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney James Left that he never told his mother or brother about the marriage.

The musician and pizza restaurant manager accepted the blame for the couple’s separation in early 2006. The relationship deteriorated after he refused to travel to meet Romero’s family for Christmas in 2005 and as his drinking spiraled out of control, he said.

“Things went south very, very fast,” Ross said.

Asked why he never sought a divorce, Ross said, “I never stopped loving her. I still love her.”

In tense exchanges, Left solicited testimony from Romero and Ross that they maintained separate apartments and that some of Romero’s prior residences weren’t listed on immigration forms. The prosecutor is also trying to prove the pair lied on immigration forms.

Romero and Ross tried to discredit witnesses who said they were told the marriage was a fake.

Romero downplayed her relationship with fashion photographer Markus Klinko, who testified for prosecutors and previously alleged in an unrelated lawsuit that the marriage of Romero and Ross was a fake.

“We had a short affair,” Romero testified about Klinko. “It was dumb, stupid.”

She began to cry and said, “It was the biggest mistake I’ve done in my life.”

Romero’s attorneys have sought to portray Klinko as a jealous ex-lover, but U.S. District Judge Manuel Real has kept jurors from hearing most of those claims.

After testimony ended, the judge drew a parallel between the case and Romero’s acting career.

“It was like a soap opera, not a trial on these charges,” Real said.

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