EL PASO, Texas – A Mexican national who lived locally, and who allegedly impersonated a federal immigration officer, remains in custody following his arrest Monday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Jose Mario Carrera-Marrufo, 30, is charged with wire fraud, impersonating a federal officer or employee of the United States, and money laundering. A federal grand jury indicted him Feb. 6.
HSI special agents assigned to the El Paso Financial Operations and Currency Unified Strike Force, or FOCUS, arrested him in a central El Paso public housing apartment Feb. 11. ICE's Office of Personal Responsibility, or OPR, in El Paso also assisted with this investigation.
"El Paso's FOCUS team is a force multiplier for HSI," said Dennis A. Ulrich, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. "This case identified an illegal scheme to extort victims. It also identified a vulnerability that seriously threatened homeland security and the legal process of obtaining an immigration benefit."
According to court records, between Nov. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2011, Carrera-Marrufo knowingly devised and intended to devise a scheme to defraud and to obtain money and property by making fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.
Carrera-Marrufo is named in an eight-count indictment returned Feb. 6 alleging that he posed as an employee, officer, or agent of an agency that deals with immigration matters, or as an immigration attorney to his victims.
He requested money over the telephone, by text message and email. In some cases, he met people in person. The people he allegedly defrauded heard of him through word of mouth.
According to the indictment: "As part of the scheme … to defraud, (Carrera-Marrufo) targeted individuals who had exhausted, or were in the process of exhausting all legitimate means to secure immigration documentation for their relatives and themselves."
The victims were told to email various identification documents to Carrera-Marrufo's email address to begin or facilitate the process of obtaining immigration documents. Once Carrera-Marrufo received the documents, he instructed his victims to deposit money in bank accounts that have been linked to him, even though they were not in his name.
At times Carrera-Marrufo told his victims he was working on a "package deal," and encouraged the victim to refer others to him to reduce the total cost to the victim, or facilitate the progress of the victim's paperwork.
However, none of the victims received immigration documents after submitting payments to him.
Carrera-Marrufo collected between $1,000 to $10,800 each from his victims, according to the indictment.
Carrera-Marrufo had his initial hearing Tuesday, and remains in federal custody. His detention hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. Friday in U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Castañeda's courtroom.
The FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General also supported the investigation.
The El Paso FOCUS is a multi-agency financial strike force that detects and targets a wide variety of financial crimes. It is comprised of the following agencies: HSI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission. Each participating agency utilizes its own unique authorities to enhance the task force's capabilities. Strike force members target financial crimes such as money laundering, mortgage and bank fraud, structuring, trade-based money laundering, money transmitting businesses/couriers, bulk cash smuggling and other financial crimes.
The El Paso FOCUS also aggressively targets assets illegally derived by criminal organizations.
HSI encourages the public to report any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. The online tip form may be accessed following this link: http://www.ice.gov/exec/forms/hsi-tips/tips.asp