SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Four men are in custody facing federal criminal charges following the execution of search warrants Thursday at two local residences that allegedly housed large-scale counterfeiting operations responsible for producing phony immigration and identity documents, including fake "green cards," birth certificates and driver's licenses from California and five other states.
During Thursday's searches, authorities seized a large cache of document-making equipment, including multiple computers, high quality printers, laminators, card stock, along with dozens of counterfeit documents. The recovered documents included counterfeit versions of the newest California driver's license and the latest generation of the Permanent Resident Card, often known as a "green card."
The searches and arrests are the latest developments in a year-long ongoing undercover probe involving the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the California Department of Motor Vehicles that originated with a call to ICE's toll-free tip line: 1-866-DHS-2ICE.
According to the search warrant affidavit, which describes several document buys by undercover HSI agents, the suspects charged $120 for a single counterfeit card, or $250 for a "set" of phony documents. The "sets" typically included a "green card," Social Security card and a driver's license. The transactions took place in the parking lots of businesses in south Sacramento, including The Home Depot and Hacienda Market. When an undercover agent expressed interest in setting up his own document mill, the affidavit alleges one of the defendants told him that for $20,000 he could help him obtain the illegal software and training to create good quality counterfeits.
"Targeting those responsible for making and selling fraudulent documents is an enforcement priority for ICE Homeland Security Investigations," said Daniel Lane, assistant special agent in charge for the ICE HSI in Sacramento. "Anyone who knowingly and indiscriminately sells phony identity cards is putting the security of our communities and even our country at risk. Documents like this could potentially be used by dangerous criminals and others seeking to obscure their identities and mask their motives."
George Valverde, director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), said the security and privacy of DMV's customer database and the state's driver's license is one of the highest priorities for the department.
"The DMV will continue to do whatever is necessary to assist local, state and federal law enforcement entities in their efforts to assure the integrity of the license," Director Valverde said. "The California Driver License is now the primary identification document for our citizens, and the Department is absolutely dedicated to protecting it from the criminal element such as counterfeiters. Californians expect no less."
One of the four criminal suspects made his initial appearance in federal court Thursday afternoon. The remaining three are due in court Friday morning. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California. The suspects, named below, are all Mexican nationals who are in the United States illegally. They are currently charged with manufacturing false identity and immigration documents.
- Javier Hernandez-Lopez, 39;
- Juan Hernandez-Lopez, 33, Javier's younger brother;
- Luis Eduardo Torres-Hernandez, 25, and
- Alejandro Bielma-Ortiz, 40.
In addition to the criminal arrests, HSI agents encountered two Mexican national males at one of the document mills who were taken into custody on administrative immigration violations. They will be held pending a hearing before an immigration judge.
Document fraud involves the manufacture, sale, or use of counterfeit identity documents, such as fake driver's licenses, birth certificates, Social Security cards or passports - for immigration fraud or other criminal activity. Individuals and criminal organizations often use fraudulent documents to obtain driver's licenses and Social Security cards.
Traffickers and alien smugglers employ these documents to facilitate their movement into and within the United States and to shield illegal aliens from detection. Fraudulent documents may be used to obtain financial benefits and entitlements intended for U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents and to obtain unauthorized employment.
In the last three fiscal years, ICE Homeland Security Investigations initiated more than 4,800 document fraud investigations nationwide resulting in more than 3,200 indictments and more than 3,100 criminal convictions.