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Document and Benefit Fraud

20 arrested in Puerto Rico for bank fraud and aggravated identity theft

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico-U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, working jointly with Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) arrested this morning 20 individuals for conspiracy to commit bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and possession of counterfeit securities.

According to the 35-count indictment, the defendants conspired to defraud numerous financial institutions throughout Puerto Rico, including Scotiabank, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, Banco Santander, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria and Firstbank, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1344(1) and (2).

Throughout the course of the conspiracy, defendants and coconspirators used the account information and means of identification of 18 unsuspecting individuals to unlawfully obtain more than $500,000 in cash and property from financial institutions.

This was accomplished by cashing fraudulent business checks, using stolen identities and account information to conduct unauthorized cash withdrawals and obtaining unsecured personal and vehicle loans using false employment and identification documents.

"Bank fraud victimizes innocent people and, as this case demonstrates, is often a gateway to further criminal activity," said Roberto Escobar Vargas, ICE acting special agent in charge in Puerto Rico. "ICE will continue to use its unique investigative authority to uncover illegal financial transactions in an effort to stop this type of fraudulent activity."

"The U.S. Attorney's Office is committed to preventing financial crimes and protecting the privacy and identity of the citizens of Puerto Rico. The joint efforts of federal and local law enforcement agencies participating in this investigation led to the arrest of these individuals who no longer will be able to defraud our financial institutions," said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez.

President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles R. Walsh. If convicted, the defendants face up to 30 years in prison with fines of up to $1 million.

Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.

For more information, visit www.ice.gov.