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Document and Benefit Fraud
01/23/2014

4 individuals sentenced for trafficking identities of Puerto Rican citizens

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Four individuals were sentenced this week for their respective roles in trafficking the identities and corresponding identity documents of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), working jointly with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Internal Revenue Service, conducted the investigation that led to the sentencing of the four men.

Domingo Pablo Gutierrez, 52, a Guatemalan national formerly of Albertville, Ala., was sentenced to serve 30 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. Gutierrez agreed to forfeit $40,000 in proceeds and be removed from the United States after the completion of his sentence. On Aug. 22, Gutierrez pleaded guilty in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce J. McGiverin of the District of Puerto Rico to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit human smuggling for financial gain.

Moises Lara-Ceballos, 38, a Mexican national formerly of Seymour, Ind., was sentenced to serve 54 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. Lara-Ceballos agreed to forfeit $422,793 in proceeds and be removed from the United States after the completion of his sentence. On Sept. 20, Lara-Ceballos pleaded guilty in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Marcos E. Lopez to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of illegal reentry after deportation.

Juan Quero-Mendez, 28, a Mexican national formerly of Lilburn, Ga., was also sentenced to serve 36 months in prison and three years of supervised release. The court ordered the defendant to forfeit $17,180 in proceeds and be removed from the United States after the completion of his sentence. On Sept. 20, Quero-Mendez pleaded guilty in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille L. Velez-Rive of the District of Puerto Rico to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit human smuggling for financial gain.

Adonis Ramirez-Segura, 54, a Dominican national of Columbus, Ohio, was sentenced to serve 22 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. On Sept. 20, Ramirez-Segura pleaded guilty in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille L. Velez-Rive to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and one count of Social Security fraud.

The four defendants were charged in a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico on March 22, 2012. To date, 53 individuals have been charged for their roles in the identity trafficking scheme. All 49 arrested defendants have pleaded guilty and 36 defendants have been sentenced.

Individuals located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Court documents allege other conspirators located in various cities throughout the United States allegedly solicited customers and sold Social Security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set. The superseding indictment alleges that the U.S. identity brokers ordered the identity documents from the document suppliers in Savarona on behalf of their customers by making coded telephone calls. The conspirators are charged with using text messages, money transfer services, and express, priority or regular U.S. mail to complete their illicit transactions.

Court documents also allege that some of the conspirators assumed a Puerto Rican identity themselves and used that identity in connection with the trafficking operation. Their customers generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and to obtain additional identification documents, such as legitimate state driver’s licenses. Some customers allegedly obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport.

According to court documents, various identity brokers were operating in Rockford, DeKalb and Aurora, Ill.; Seymour, Columbus and Indianapolis, Ind.; Hartford, Conn.; Clewiston, Fla.; Lilburn and Norcross, Ga.; Salisbury, Md.; Columbus and Fairfield, Ohio; Dorchester, Lawrence, Salem and Worcester, Mass.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nebraska City, Neb.; Elizabeth, N.J.; Burlington and Hickory, N.C.; Hazelton and Philadelphia, Pa.; Houston; Abingdon and Albertville, Ala.; and Providence, R.I.

Quero-Mendez was an identity broker who operated in Lilburn, Ga.; Ramirez-Segura was an identity broker who operated in Columbus, Ohio; Lara-Ceballos was an identity broker who operated in Seymour, Ind.; and Gutierrez was an identity broker who operated in Albertville, Ala, according to court documents.

The charges are the result of Operation Island Express, an ongoing, nationally coordinated investigation led by HSI Chicago and in coordination with HSI San Juan.