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07/01/2010

Redwood City man convicted of impersonating ICE officer, attempting to extort 6 individuals

OAKLAND, Calif, - A federal jury Wednesday found a Redwood City, Calif., man guilty of impersonating a federal officer and using that ruse to attempt to extort money from people.

Frank Salvador Solorza, 46, was convicted of posing as a federal immigration officer and demanding money from six individuals, threatening them with jail and deportation if they failed to pay him. The jury also found that Solorza had engaged in a conspiracy with other persons to commit these crimes.

Evidence at trial showed Solorza conspired to send letters purporting to be from a government immigration agency to six individuals. The letters demanded a total of $50,000 to clear up the individuals' immigration status. After receiving the letters, the victims contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which immediately opened an investigation.

According to evidence at trial, Solorza and others called the individuals after delivery of the letters, continuing to claim to be officials from a government immigration agency and demanding money. During these calls, Solorza and others designated a time and location for the victims to pay the money. When he attempted to collect the money at the designated time and location, Solorza was arrested by agents with ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). At the time of his arrest, Solorza was wearing a clown suit as a disguise and riding a child's bicycle.

"This case shows that the United States will investigate and vigorously prosecute those who impersonate federal officers," U.S. Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello said. "Individuals who cloak themselves with apparent federal authority in order to victimize vulnerable people will be brought to justice."

"Among the various schemes and artifices being used by some unscrupulous persons are offers to provide immigration services, including ways to avoid the established channels for adjusting ones immigration status, offers to provide false and forged identity documents, even threats and false impersonation of immigration officials," U.S. Attorney Russoniello added. "When these schemes are uncovered, the perpetrators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

"While part of this defendant's deception involved dressing as a clown, his actions are no laughing matter," Mark Wollman, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of HSI in San Francisco said. "One of our enforcement priorities is to target immigration fraud and the swindlers who prey on innocent individuals in our communities. We want to remind the public that if they're approached by a person claiming to represent ICE, or any other federal law enforcement agency, they should ask to see the individual's badge and credentials. If the purported officer can't produce that proof, they should report the incident to authorities."

Solorza faces a maximum sentence of more than 20 years prison when he is sentenced Sept. 15.