An informant for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made a phone call to "Carlos." He explained to "Carlos" that he was at a local restaurant and needed some fake documents - a permanent resident card and a social security card. In no time, "Carlos" arrived and delivered the documents. The informant paid for the goods. The transaction was seamless.
That was the case throughout a nine-month investigation led by ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents. They discovered that "Carlos" was actually Jose Oropeza, and that he was working for Jorge Santiago-Gomez, one of the biggest document dealers in Pinellas County, Fla.
Santiago-Gomez was running a document mill out of his apartment, a location that frequently changed.
"He moved every three weeks to stay elusive," said Joe Durand, an ICE HSI agent with the Tampa office. "And he was moving a lot of docs."
Santiago-Gomez had high-end computer equipment and images of identification cards from various states and federal agencies, including social security cards, driver's licenses and resident alien cards. Packages of these fraudulent documents sold for about $150 to $200. Agents estimate that Santiago-Gomez and Oropeza were making thousands per month in this enterprise.
During the investigation, Durand noted, "Anything he [the informant] needed, we could easily pick up" which eventually lead to the conspirators' downfall. When agents went to serve a search warrant at Santiago-Gomez's residence, he walked out holding a handful of fraudulent documents.
Santiago-Gomez and Oropeza are currently serving 37-month and 18-month prison sentences, respectively. Neither individual is a U.S. citizen. They will be removed to their native Mexico upon completion of their prison terms.
"Document and benefit fraud poses a severe threat to national security and public safety because it creates a vulnerability that may enable terrorists, criminals and illegal aliens to gain entry to and remain in the United States," said Susan McCormick, special agent in charge of the ICE HSI Tampa office. "That is why this particular type of fraud is a high priority for ICE HSI."
Currently, ICE leads 18 Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces across the country. These task forces detect, deter and disrupt document and benefit fraud.
Learn more about document and benefit fraud investigations.