HARRISONBURG, Va. - Jose Antonio Gutierrez-Ramirez, 34, of Columbus, Ohio, pled guilty in United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Harrisonburg, today on charges related to his participation in a conspiracy to create false identification documents announced Acting United States Attorney Julia C. Dudley. This was an ICE lead investigation with assistance from the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Department of Labor Office of Labor, Racketeering and Fraud Investigation, the Virginia Attorney General's Office and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations for the United States Attorney's Office, Western District of Virginia.
"Enforcing our nation's immigration laws is one of the top priorities of every law enforcement agency," Acting United States Attorney Julia C. Dudley said. "The investigation and on-going prosecution of this large conspiracy of individuals who tried to defraud the United States' government has without question taken a large number of fraudulent documents out of circulation."
Gutierrez-Ramirez pled guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of aggravated identity fraud. The maximum penalty faced by the defendant is two years of imprisonment and/or a fine of $250,000. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 12, 2008.
Today's guilty plea is the first such action in regards to a case involving a total of eight defendants accused of participating in a multi-state conspiracy to obtain and sell unlawful Ohio identification cards that were distributed to illegal aliens in the Western District of Virginia, and elsewhere.
The other defendants, all indicted in March 2008, include: Edwin Roberto Mendez, 32, of Harrisonburg, Christina Dawn Cheatham, 23, of Columbus, Ohio, Nekeia Mack-Fuller, 29, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, Luis M. Rosado-Rodriguez, 29, of Ponce, Puerto Rico, Jairo Gomez, 32, of Harrisonburg, and Michelle Eckerman, 27, of Canal Winchester, Ohio.
The charges are as follows:
- Edwin Mendez: one count of conspiracy, one count of aggravated ID fraud and one count of identity fraud conspiracy.
- Christina Cheatham: one count of conspiracy and one count of identity fraud conspiracy.
- Nekeia Mack-Fuller: one count of conspiracy and one count of identity fraud conspiracy.
- Luis Rosado-Rodriguez: one count of conspiracy, one count of aggravated ID fraud and one count of identity fraud conspiracy.
- Jairo Gomez: one count of conspiracy, one count of aggravated ID fraud and one count of identity fraud conspiracy.
- Juan LNU: one count of conspiracy, one count of aggravated ID fraud and one count of identity fraud conspiracy.
- Michelle Eckerman: one count of conspiracy and one count of identity fraud conspiracy.
All eight of the accused have been charged with conspiring to produce, transfer, possess and use unlawful identification documents between January 2004 and February 2008.
The conspiracy was designed to allow the defendants to enrich themselves by fraudulent means through the trafficking of identity documents and State of Ohio identity cards. Furthermore, the use of Puerto Rican birth certificates and matching Social Security cards prevented detection of the true identity of individuals purchasing those identity documents.
According to evidence presented at today's guilty plea hearing by Assistant United States Attorney C. Patrick Hogeboom, Gutierrez-Ramirez admitted to acting as a facilitator and go between for document vendors and employees working at an Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).
Gutierrez-Ramirez's major function within the conspiracy was to transport individuals with illegally obtained Puerto Rican or Texas Birth Certificates and matching Social Security Cards to the Scarbourgh Boulevard BMV in Columbus, Ohio. Many of those individuals came to the defendant from the Western District of Virginia.
Gutierrez-Ramirez's residence served as a staging area where individuals received instructions and directions from Gutierrez-Ramirez and other members of the conspiracy prior to being transported to the Scarborough Boulevard BMV location. Gutierrez-Ramirez, and others, filed out applications and acted as "interpreters" at the Scarbourgh Boulevard BMV.
Employees at the BMV, specifically Mack-Fuller and Eckerman used the information provided by Gutierrez-Ramirez and the source documents to cause the issuance of Ohio Identity documents. A number of the impersonators used the Ohio Identity cards to obtain employment within the Western District of Virginia.