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Document and Benefit Fraud
01/21/2011

ICE-led document and benefit fraud investigation leads to arrests in eastern Washington

YAKIMA, Wash. - Fourteen individuals will make their initial appearance Friday morning in federal court here after being arrested by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) on criminal charges related to an investigation into the manufacture and purchase of counterfeit identity and employment documents.

ICE's HSI agents were joined by other federal and local law enforcement agencies as they served 11 criminal search warrants Thursday morning at 22 locations in and around Ellensburg, Wash. All of those arrested on criminal charges were indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Washington earlier this month.

Of the 14 defendants who are appearing in federal court Friday morning, 13 are charged with visa fraud and government identification fraud; three of those have the additional charge of false claim to U.S. citizenship. One has been charged with re-entry into the United States after deportation.

"Those who create and sell fraudulent documents compromise our nation's legal identification system and provide counterfeit identities to those who may otherwise be ineligible to live or work legally in the United States," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of HSI in Washington state. "Targeting those who commit this type of crime is an enforcement priority for HSI."

In addition to the 14 criminal arrests, 16 others were taken into custody on administrative immigration violations. Three individuals were interviewed and released for humanitarian reasons while they await a hearing before an immigration judge. The remaining individuals are in the custody of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash., where they have been placed in removal proceedings.

HSI was assisted in this investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security; U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations; the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office; the Yakima County Violent Crimes Task Force; and the Ellensburg Police Department.