RICHMOND, Va. - A Virginia man was sentenced today to 46 months in prison for his participation as a runner for the Virginia Beach, Va., cell of a highly sophisticated and violent fraudulent document trafficking organization following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The organization is based in Mexico and has cells in 19 cities and 11 states, including three cells in Virginia.
Oscar Zaraut-Correa, 26, who was arrested in November 2010, pleaded guilty on Jan. 27, 2011, to conspiring to produce and transfer false identification documents and possess a document-making implement. As alleged in the indictment and related filings, Zaraut-Correa served as a "runner" for the enterprise in Virginia Beach, Va., for approximately six months prior to his arrest on Nov. 18, 2010.
"The sentence handed down today reflects the serious nature of the crimes committed by this individual," said John P. Torres, special agent in charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office in Virginia. "ICE HSI is committed to stopping those who put the security of our communities at risk by enabling criminals the ability to obscure their identities and cover their tracks through the use of fraudulent documents."
According to the 12-count indictment, Israel Cruz Millan, a/k/a "El Muerto," 28, of Raleigh, N.C., managed the organization's operations in the United States, overseeing cells in nearly a dozen states that produced high-quality false identification cards for illegal aliens. He allegedly placed a manager in each city. These individuals supervised a number of "runners" who distributed business cards advertising the organization's services and helped facilitate transactions with customers. The cost of fraudulent documents varied depending on the location, with counterfeit resident alien and Social Security cards typically selling for $150 to $200. Each cell allegedly maintained detailed sales records and divided the proceeds between the runner, cell manager and upper-level managers in Mexico. From January 2008 through November 2010, members of the organization are accused of wiring more than $1 million to Mexico.
The indictment alleges that Cruz Millan's organization sought to drive competitors from its territory by posing as customers and attacking the competitors when they arrived to make a sale. These attacks allegedly included binding the victims' hands, feet and mouth and repeatedly beating them, as well as threatening them with death if they continued to sell false identification documents in the area. The victims were allegedly left bound at the scene of the attack, and at least one victim died from the beatings.
Cruz Millan is accused of tightly controlling the organization's activities, keeping in regular contact with cell managers about inventory, biweekly sales reports and competition. The indictment alleges that members who violated internal rules within the operation were subject to discipline, including shaving eyebrows, wearing weights, beatings, and other violent acts.
According to court documents, Zaraut-Correa worked with the supervisor of the Virginia Beach cell in attempting to lure a suspected competitor in for an attack planned for Sept. 18, 2010. The defendant and two others planned on following the competitor back to his residence, where the victim would be attacked and threatened with bodily harm if he continued to sell fraudulent documents in competition with the organization. The competitor never showed up for the meeting, and Zaraut-Correa and others later called off the planned attack when they discovered the targeted competitor was actually a close associate of other members of the organization.
Twenty-seven members of the organization were originally arrested on Nov. 18, 2010. To date, 22 of those arrested have pled guilty in this case. Five defendants remain pending for trial, which is scheduled for October 17, 2011.
The investigation was centered in the Norfolk office of ICE HSI, which falls under the Washington, D.C., office. ICE HSI received assistance from the Virginia State Police and Chesterfield County Police Department.