EL PASO, Texas - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Investigations special agents on Tuesday arrested a local man who allegedly used fraudulent government documents and seals to defraud people of tens of thousands of dollars.
Elias Muñoz Jr., 48, was arrested in a Westside parking lot after he promised a 10-to-1 return on a $65,000 loan to an ICE undercover special agent that he believed to be a potential investor. Muñoz is named in a four-count indictment a federal grand jury returned May 7 charging him with one count of wire fraud, and three counts of government seals wrongfully used.
ICE special agents began their investigation in November 2006 after multiple victims reported that Muñoz had defrauded them of about $52,000. The victims told ICE agents that Muñoz falsely stated to them that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had seized $25 million at the El Paso International Airport, and he needed to raise a large sum to claim his money.
Muñoz presented counterfeit documents bearing U.S. government seals that falsely indicated that Muñoz had to pay multiple fees before DHS would release the money to him. He also falsely represented to his victims that if they loaned the defendant the money to pay the fees, he would immediately liquidate the loan with a high rate of interest.
The ICE investigation revealed that in the past three years, Muñoz may have defrauded as many as 30 people in El Paso and San Angelo, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, of more than $230,000. He allegedly owes his so-called investors more than $500,000.
"People need to be wary of scam artists promising deals that are too good to be true," said Roberto G. Medina, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in El Paso. "ICE will continue to identify and arrest these common thieves. But people's common sense and good judgment are their best protection and first line of defense."
Muñoz had his initial appearance on Wednesday in federal court, and is being held without bond. He remains jailed at the El Paso County Detention Facility pending trial. If convicted, Muñoz faces up to 20 years in prison, three years supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.
Anyone who has information about anyone else who may have been victimized by this scheme may call ICE Special Agent Omar Fournier at (915) 231-3430.