PHOENIX – Eight Phoenix-area residents were indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury for their involvement in an elaborate passport and Social Security fraud ring designed to conceal the true identities of Mexican nationals in order to shield them from detection by U.S. immigration authorities.
The 16-count indictment follows an extensive investigation led by the Arizona Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service, with significant investigative and legal assistance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and ICE's Office of the Chief Counsel (OCC) Phoenix. Named in the indictment are:
- Esther Gonzales Guerrero, 45, of Peoria, Ariz.;
- Magdalena Adelisa Gonzales Guerrero, 23, of Peoria;
- Luis Arsenio Chavez Velazquez, 37, of Phoenix;
- Aldair Guerra Lopez, 22, of Peoria;
- Teodoro Bueno Figueroa, 36, of Phoenix;
- Juan Gabriel Echevarria Mendoza, 34, of Phoenix; and
- Armando Garcia Chavez, 50, of Surprise, Ariz.
According to the indictment, Esther Guerrero and her daughter, Magdalena Guerrero, both U.S. citizens, procured counterfeit Mexican documents that falsely identified the other defendants, all Mexican nationals, as the biological children of Esther Guerrero or her U.S. citizen parents. The six Mexican national defendants then used the counterfeit Mexican documents to fraudulently obtain U.S. passports under false names. Five of the other defendants used the fraudulent passports to obtain Social Security cards under the false names.
Further, the indictment charges the mother and daughter with harboring the other defendants from U.S. immigration authorities. Three of the Mexican national defendants were previously ordered removed from the United States and face charges for illegal reentry of a removed alien.
"A U.S. passport provides our nation's citizens benefits while travelling abroad, allows them to reenter the United States upon their return home, and serves as an important identification document," said Acting United States Attorney Ann Birmingham Scheel. "Those who make false statements on passport applications and Social Security forms to conceal their true identities and to keep their illegal presence in the United States hidden from authorities, diminish the ability of all citizens to utilize and rely on this form of identification."
"ICE will use every legal tool at its disposal to help our partners at the U.S. Attorney's Office prosecute those who commit immigration fraud or otherwise exploit our nation's laws for their own personal gain," said Patricia Vroom, ICE's chief counsel in Phoenix. "This case has been a true team effort and I am proud of the hard work and expertise that our ICE prosecutor has provided in order to ensure these individuals are brought to justice."
"These arrests should send a strong message to those who hope to game our nation's lawful immigration system through fraud and deceit," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of HSI Arizona. "HSI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and dismantle these criminal enterprises and bring egregious immigration law violators to justice."
Additional investigative and law enforcement support was provided by the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Arizona Department of Economic Security's Office of Special Investigations, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Phoenix Police Department.
Ian Simons, a special U.S. attorney with OCC Phoenix, is serving as co-counsel for the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark S. Kokanovich of the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Arizona.
A conviction for passport fraud carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. A conviction for social security fraud carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.