FRESNO, Calif. — Nine suspects face federal criminal charges following their arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents during an enforcement action Monday targeting three large-scale counterfeit document mills operating in the Central Valley.
The suspects, who made their initial appearance in federal court Tuesday morning, are charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy and fraud, and misuse of visas. Specifically, the defendants were allegedly involved in the production and distribution of counterfeit identification documents. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.
As part of Monday's enforcement action, HSI special agents executed search warrants at six residences in Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties and at a Fresno One Hour Photo shop that was also linked to the scheme. During those searches, special agents discovered and seized hundreds of fraudulent identities in the process of being manufactured, along with numerous document-making supplies, including printers and laminators. In addition, special agents recovered more than $5,000 in cash from the various search locations.
"Trafficking in counterfeit documents poses a serious security vulnerability and contributes to a host of other types of crimes, including identity theft and financial fraud," said Clark Settles, the special agent in charge who oversees HSI Fresno. "Our goal in these investigations is to identify and ultimately dismantle the criminal organizations behind these highly lucrative schemes."
The defendants charged in connection with the investigation are:
- Luis Mirabete-Pena, 23, of Fresno;
- Marco Arias-Solis, 40, of Fresno;
- Felix Santiago-Matias, 41, of Fresno;
- Othoniel Parra-Gallardo, 31, of Tulare;
- Eretzander Morales-Lozano, 22, of Tulare;
- Benjamin Aparacio-Pablo, 26, of Tulare;
- Dalia Reyes-Serapio, 29, of Fresno;
- Ubaldo Castillo-Hernandez, 41, of Ontario, Calif.; and
- Jenny Thanh Nguyen, 55, of Clovis, Calif., owner of the One Hour Photo.
The arrests and searches are the culmination of a long-term HSI probe focusing on some of the area's most prolific document counterfeiting operations. Based on the investigation, special agents believe the targeted mills, two located in Fresno and one in Tulare, are responsible for producing and distributing more than 100 counterfeit documents a month. Those documents included phony permanent resident alien or "green" cards and Social Security cards.