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Document and Benefit Fraud
02/28/2014

Federal jury finds NM man guilty on bank fraud, conspiracy charges

Scheme involved stealing checks from residential mailboxes, altering and cashing them

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal jury Thursday returned a guilty verdict against a local man for conspiring with two other individuals in a bank-fraud scheme that involved stealing checks from residential mailboxes.

This case was investigated by special agents with U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the assistance of the Los Lunas (N.M.) Police Department.

Raymundo Silva, 35, was convicted of conspiracy and five bank-fraud charges. The jury acquitted Silva on two other bank-fraud charges after a four-day trial.

Acting U.S. Attorney Steven C. Yarbrough commended HSI and the Los Lunas Police Department for their outstanding investigative work on a case that affected numerous citizens victimized from the scheme perpetuated by Silva and his two co-defendants.

"HSI is committed to using our ample and unique investigative authority to uncover this type of fraudulent activity," said Dennis A. Ulrich, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. "Bank fraud victimizes innocent people, and part of the HSI mission is to prevent financial crimes, and protect the privacy and identity of our citizens."

Silva, and co-defendants Patricia Diaz, 35, of Los Lunas, and Christina Knight, 29, of Albuquerque, were indicted in August 2013 on conspiracy, bank-fraud and aggravated identity-theft charges. The trio subsequently was charged in a 31-count superseding indictment alleging conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.

The superseding indictment generally charged Silva, Diaz and Knight with engaging in a scheme to commit bank fraud between December 2011 and April 2013.

On Oct. 28, 2013, Diaz pleaded guilty to bank fraud conspiracy and bank-fraud charges; Knight pleaded guilty Feb. 20 to bank-fraud conspiracy, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. Silva proceeded to trial on the bank fraud conspiracy and bank fraud charges against him.

His trial, which began Feb. 24, concluded Feb. 27 when the jury returned a guilty verdict on the conspiracy count and five of seven bank-fraud counts in the superseding indictment against Silva; the jury found Silva not guilty on two bank fraud counts.

Trial evidence established that Silva, Diaz and Knight perpetuated a bank-fraud scheme by stealing checks from residential mailboxes, altering the names of payees and the amounts on the checks, and cashing the checks using either their own identities or, in the case of Knight, the identities of others.

In December 2011, a Los Lunas police officer investigating a check-washing and identity-theft ring spotted a vehicle leaving a Los Lunas bank following a failed attempt to cash a fraudulent check. In February 2012, after surveillance established that the vehicle frequently visited a residence in Belen, N.M., Los Lunas police officers executed a search warrant at the residence and seized chemicals and other products commonly used to wash and alter checks, several driver licenses, college ID and Social Security cards, bank receipts and other evidence.

An investigation by HSI special agents and Los Lunas police officers identified Silva, Diaz and Knight as the members of a bank-fraud scheme in late 2012, following the theft of five checks from the mailbox of a Los Lunas residence.

Silva cashed one of the checks Dec. 26, 2012, and between Dec. 20, 2012, and Jan. 4, 2013. Knight cashed three of the checks using the identification of another person. Each of these four checks had been altered by changing the name of the payee and amount. Laboratory analysis by HSI special agents revealed that the chemicals seized from Silva's residence were used to alter the checks.

Silva has been in federal custody since his arrest in August 2013. He remains detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled. Silva faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, and 13 years in prison on each of the eight bank-fraud charges.

Diaz and Knight also are in custody pending their sentencing hearings. Each faces a maximum of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, and 13 years on each of their bank-fraud charges. Knight also faces a two-year prison sentence that must be served consecutively to any prison sentence imposed on the conspiracy and bank-fraud charges to which she pleaded guilty.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Norman Cairns and Paul Mysliwiec, District of New Mexico, are prosecuting this case.