WASHINGTON — Five foreign nationals were sentenced to prison for their respective roles in trafficking the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department's Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Rosa E. Rodríguez-Vélez for the District of Puerto Rico; Director John Morton of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Chief Postal Inspector Guy J. Cottrell of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS); Scott P. Bultrowicz, Director of the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS); and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Chief Richard Weber.
Daniel Aparicio-Lara, 29, a Mexican national formerly of Burlington, N.C., was sentenced today to 66 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder in the Middle District of North Carolina. In addition to his prison term, Aparicio-Lara was sentenced to serve three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $140,800 in proceeds. On Sept. 18, 2012, Aparicio-Lara pleaded guilty in front of Judge Schroeder to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Manuel Guzman-Santos, 37, a Dominican national formerly of Worcester, Mass., and Marco Pena, 37, a Dominican national formerly of Dorchester, Mass., were sentenced yesterday by U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro in the District of Massachusetts. Both Guzman-Santos and Pena were sentenced to serve 30 months in prison. On Aug. 2, 2012, Guzman-Santos and Pena each pleaded guilty in front of Judge Tauro to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud.
Adelfo Perez-Garcia, 36, a Mexican national formerly of Seymour, Ind., and Alma Yesenia Garcia-Ramirez, 29, a Mexican national formerly of Crystal Lake, Ill., were sentenced yesterday by U.S. District Judge Gustavo A. Gelpí in the District of Puerto Rico. Perez-Garcia was sentenced to serve 24 months and one day in prison and Garcia-Ramirez was sentenced to serve 24 months in prison. Judge Gelpí ordered the removal of both defendants from the United States after the completion of their sentences and ordered that Garcia-Ramirez forfeit $35,900 in proceeds. On Aug. 28, 2012, Perez-Garcia pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud in the District of Puerto Rico in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Silvia Carreño-Coll. On Sept. 4, 2012, Garcia-Ramirez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for financial gain in the District of Puerto Rico before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce J. McGiverin.
The five defendants were charged in a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico Mar. 22, 2012. To date, a total of 53 individuals have been charged for their roles in the identity trafficking scheme, and 23 defendants have pleaded guilty.
Court documents allege that individuals located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Other conspirators located in various cities throughout the United States (identity brokers) 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 identity brokers ordered the identity documents from Savarona suppliers, on behalf of the 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 allege that some identity brokers assumed a Puerto Rican identity themselves and used that identity in connection with the trafficking operation. Their customers allegedly 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, Ill.; DeKalb, Ill.; Aurora, Ill.; Seymour, Ind.; Columbus, Ind.; Indianapolis; Hartford, Conn.; Clewiston, Fla.; Lilburn, Ga.; Norcross, Ga.; Salisbury, Md.; Columbus, Ohio; Fairfield, Ohio; Dorchester, Mass.; Lawrence, Mass.; Salem, Mass.; Worcester, Mass.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nebraska City, Neb.; Elizabeth, N.J.; Burlington, N.C.; Hickory, N.C.; Hazelton, Pa.; Philadelphia; Houston; Abingdon, Va.; Albertville, Ala.; and Providence, R.I.
According to court documents, Aparicio-Lara admitted that he was an identity broker who operated in North Carolina and Missouri; Guzman-Santos and Pena admitted that they were identity brokers who operated in Massachusetts; and Perez-Garcia admitted that he was an identity broker who operated in Indiana. Garcia-Ramirez admitted to assisting an Illinois-based identity broker and transferring money on behalf of the organization. The five defendants used either a real Texan or Puerto Rican identity themselves to commit identification fraud and to facilitate their identity trafficking business.
The charges are the result of Operation Island Express, an ongoing, nationally-coordinated investigation led by HSI Chicago and USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices in Chicago, in coordination with HSI San Juan. The Illinois Secretary of State Police (Elgin, Ill.) Police Department; Seymour (Ind.) Police Department; and Indiana State Police provided substantial assistance. HSI Dominican Republic and International Organized Crime Intelligence, and Operations Center as well as various ICE, USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices around the country provided invaluable assistance.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys James S. Yoon, Hope S. Olds, Courtney B. Schaefer, and Christina Giffin of the Justice Department Criminal Division's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, with the assistance of Acting Deputy Chief Jeannette Gunderson of the Criminal Division's Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, and the support of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Attorney's Offices in the Northern District of Illinois, Southern District of Indiana, District of Connecticut, District of Massachusetts, District of Nebraska, Middle District of North Carolina, Southern District of Ohio, District of Rhode Island, Southern District of Texas and Western District of Virginia provided substantial assistance.
Potential victims and the public may obtain information about the case at: www.justice.gov/criminal/vns/caseup/beltrerj.html. Anyone who believes their identity may have been compromised in relation to this investigation may contact the ICE toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) and its online tip form at www.ice.gov/tipline. Anyone who may have information about particular crimes in this case should also report it to the ICE tip line or website.
Anyone who believes that they have been a victim of identity theft, or wants information about preventing identity theft, may obtain helpful information and complaint forms on various government websites including the Federal Trade Commission ID Theft Website, www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Additional resources regarding identity theft can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/pubs/ID_theft/idtheft.html; www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html; www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/identity_theft; and www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=186436,00.html.