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Document and Benefit Fraud
02/23/2009

DMV and ICE dismantle major Bakersfield counterfeit document ring

Ring recruited customers outside local grocery stores

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Seven suspects face state charges after investigators from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) executed state search warrants last week targeting a sophisticated counterfeit document ring that recruited customers at area Latino grocery stores.

The enforcement action, which took place Wednesday, resulted in the seizure of a large cache of counterfeit document manufacturing equipment, such as computers, laminators, government seals and card stock, as well as nearly $13,000 in cash. The searches were conducted at two apartments and one residence allegedly used by the defendants to produce the documents. Those documents included counterfeit false Social Security cards, driver's licenses, and Resident Alien cards, commonly known as "green cards." Personnel from the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff"s Office assisted with the operation.

The investigation into the document ring originated from a lead uncovered by ICE. During the ensuing three-month probe, undercover DMV investigators purchased counterfeit documents from suspects outside two Ranch Markets in Bakersfield. Authorities say the counterfeits were of very high quality.

"The security and integrity of California Driver Licenses and California Identification Cards is absolutely one of our most important mandates," said DMV Director George Valverde. "Our investigators work tirelessly to track down criminals who try in any way possible to compromise our customers' identities and security."

"Counterfeit identity documents like the ones produced by this ring can be used by terrorists, criminals, essentially anyone who's seeking to mask their identities and hide their true intentions," said Michael Toms, resident agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Bakersfield. "Given the public security implications, ICE is working closely with its local and federal law enforcement counterparts here in Kern County and around the country to target these kinds of schemes and shut them down."

The six men charged in the case, including one Salvadoran and five Mexican nationals, are all in the United States illegally. The lone woman defendant is a U.S. citizen. The defendants face a variety of state charges, including manufacturing and distributing false immigration documents, selling forged documents, possessing a forged seal, and conspiracy.