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Document and Benefit Fraud

Dominican national sentenced in identity theft scheme

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Dominican national was sentenced March 5 for his role in a scheme to steal and sell the identities and corresponding identity documents of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens. The sentence is the result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); U.S. Postal Inspection Service; U.S. State Department, Diplomatic Security Service; and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation.

Rafael Lara-Mejia – aka Gabriel Arenas, Martin Muniz Rosado or Jeffrey Montanez Rivera – a Dominican national living in Providence, was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison.

In December 2012, Lara-Mejia pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and conspiracy to encourage an alien to reside in the United States for financial gain. Lara-Mejia was among 50 individuals named in a federal indictment returned Dec. 29, 2011, in Puerto Rico.

The indictment alleges that conspirators located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, illegally obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Conspirators in various locations throughout the United States – identity brokers – solicited customers, while identity brokers, like Lara-Mejia, sold Social Security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set.

The indictment alleges that the customers generally obtained the documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens in order to, among other things, obtain additional identification documents, such as legitimate state driver's licenses. Some customers obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport.

Lara-Mejia admitted to the court Dec. 10, 2012, that beginning in at least April 2009 and continuing through January 2012, he and his co-conspirators sold personal identifying information, including names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens to between 25 and 99 undocumented aliens and others residing within the United States, including in Rhode Island.

Lara-Mejia also admitted that he and his co-conspirators sold Puerto Rico government-issued issued birth certificates, Social Security cards, driver's licenses and voter registration cards belonging to Puerto Rican U.S. citizens.

Lara-Mejia has been detained since his arrest in Rhode Island March 27, 2012. He faces deportation proceedings upon completion of his prison term.