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Document and Benefit Fraud
06/07/2011

Member of sophisticated and violent fraudulent document ring pleads guilty

RICHMOND, Va. - A member of a highly sophisticated and violent fraudulent document trafficking organization based in Mexico, with cells in 19 cities and 11 states, including three cells in Virginia, pleaded guilty on Tuesday for his role in the operation. This case is being investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Diego Cortez-Angel, 28, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy. He will be sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer on Sept. 26, and faces a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, and a $250,000 fine.

"Cortez-Angel was a cell leader for a deadly criminal organization based in Mexico that used brutal violence to eliminate rivals, protect its turf, and enforce discipline against its own members," said U.S. Attorney MacBride. "Thanks to the tremendous effort of ICE agents throughout the country, we were able to hold him and others responsible and dismantle their organization."

"Fraudulent documents are a vulnerability to the nation's homeland security," said ICE HSI Special Agent in Charge in D.C. John P. Torres. "ICE HSI special agents investigate and dismantle fraudulent document organizations prioritizing those who utilize violence and intimidation as part of their business model. This fraudulent document organization exemplifies a priority target, and this dismantlement demonstrates HSI's resolve to aggressively pursue criminal charges against organization members."

According to the 12-count indictment, Israel Cruz Millan, aka "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 to illegal aliens. He allegedly placed a manager in each city, each of whom 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 from $150 to $200. Each cell allegedly maintained detailed sales records and divided the proceeds between the runner, the cell manager, and the upper-level managers in Mexico. The indictment states that from January 2008 through November 2010, members of the organization wired more than $1 million to Mexico.

The indictment alleges that Cruz Millan's organization sought to drive competitors from their 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; repeatedly beating them; and 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 the indictment states that 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, bi-weekly 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.

As alleged in the indictment and related guilty plea filings, Diego Cortez-Angel was the supervisor of the Fayetteville, Ark., cell.

Twenty-seven members of the organization were originally arrested on Nov. 18, 2010. To date, 20 of those arrested have pleaded guilty in this case. Eleven defendants remain pending for trial, which will be scheduled following a status hearing on June 10.

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. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Gill and Angela Mastandrea-Miller and Trial Attorney Addison Thompson, of the Criminal Division's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, are prosecuting the case.

For more information, visit www.ice.gov.