KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Fourteen people have been indicted by a federal grand jury for participating in a $5 million conspiracy to provide more than 3,500 fraudulent identity documents to illegal aliens across the United States. The indictment included six members of a St. Joseph, Mo., family and three Guatemalan nationals in Carthage, Mo. The scheme allegedly utilized the Missouri Department of Revenue license office in St. Joseph. This indictment was announced by U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips, Western District of Missouri.
"St. Joseph was the hub of a criminal conspiracy for thousands of illegal aliens who traveled to Missouri from across the country," Phillips said. "Conspirators operated a vast black market where identities were bought and sold. It's crucial for business and public safety that we maintain the integrity of government-issued IDs. Those who profited from this illegal scheme will be held accountable."
"The individuals involved in this conspiracy orchestrated an extensive identity fraud scheme on a grand scale," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations office in Chicago. "Identity and document fraud is a burgeoning problem in the United States that poses a direct threat to national security and public safety. These charges reflect ICE HSI's ongoing commitment to investigate this type of criminal activity and those who assume other people's identities to skirt the law."
"Troopers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol and investigators from the Missouri Department of Revenue were part of this state-federal-local investigation of conspirators who allegedly assisted illegal immigrants attempting to obtain identity documents fraudulently," Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Jerry Lee said. "Today, that law enforcement partnership resulted in arrests in Missouri and Texas. The success of this investigation would not have been possible without outstanding cooperation between state, federal and local law enforcement agencies. I commend the troopers from the Highway Patrol, investigators from the Department of Revenue and the local and federal officers that have taken part in this investigation."
The following people were charged in a 40-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Mo., on Jan. 10: Deborah J. Flores, 46; her sister, Sherri E. Gutierrez, 45; and Flores' children, Stephen Eugene Vanvacter, 24; Sara M. Gonzalez, 20; Christina Michelle Gonzalez, 23; and Jessica Mercedes Gonzalez, 21; all of St. Joseph; Elder Enrique Ordonez-Chanas, aka "Flaco," 30; Nelson Dariseo Bautista-Orozco, 26; and Ranfe Adaias Hernandez-Flores, aka "Miguel," 22; all citizens of Guatemala residing in Carthage; Brenda De La Cruz, 32, of San Antonio, Texas; Martin Alejandro Llanas-Rodriguez, 29, and Julio Cesar Llanas-Rodrigues, both citizens of Mexico residing in San Antonio; Martin Lara-Rodriguez, 31, a citizen of Mexico residing in Chicago, Ill.; and Luis Adalberto Felipe-Lopez (identified in the indictment as "Joel LNU"), age unknown, a citizen of Guatemala residing in Mt. Olive, N. Carolina. The indictment was unsealed and made public on Jan. 11 upon the arrests and initial court appearances of several defendants.
The federal indictment alleges that all of the defendants have participated in a conspiracy since November 2009 to transport illegal aliens, to unlawfully produce identification documents, to unlawfully transfer another person's identification and to commit Social Security fraud.
To obtain a Missouri driver's or non-driver's license, applicants are required to provide proof of U.S. citizenship, which may be shown by a certified birth certificate. Applicants must also provide proof of their Social Security number, and proof of a Missouri residential address. Conspirators allegedly provided illegal aliens with birth certificates and Social Security cards in the names of others and provided them with Missouri residential addresses.
The indictment alleges that illegal aliens traveled to St. Joseph from across the United States to obtain either a Missouri driver's license or non-driver's license by using the unlawfully obtained birth certificate and Social Security cards. The state licenses were then used by the illegal aliens to remain unlawfully in the United States, to unlawfully obtain employment, and for other unlawful purposes.
It is estimated that more than 3,500 licenses were issued to illegal aliens by the Department of Revenue license office in St. Joseph, according to the indictment. Illegal aliens each paid $1,500 to $1,600 to obtain documents and a license, the indictment says, totaling more than $5.25 million in gross proceeds paid by illegal aliens to members of the conspiracy.
According to the indictment, conspirators (including Carthage residents Ordonez-Chanas and Hernandez-Flores, as well as Lara-Rodriguez in Chicago and Felipe-Lopez in North Carolina) recruited illegal aliens as customers for fraudulent identification documents and then directed the illegal aliens to travel to St. Joseph to receive the documents. Sometimes conspirators provided transportation to St. Joseph, the indictment says. Felipe-Lopez allegedly transported illegal aliens back and forth between North Carolina and Missouri, and Hernandez-Flores allegedly transported illegal aliens back and forth between Carthage and St. Joseph.
San Antonio residents Martin and Julio Llanas-Rodriguez and De La Cruz allegedly purchased state-issued birth certificates and Social Security cards, usually from Texas residents who were willing to sell their identification documents. They allegedly mailed these documents to either Ordonez-Chanas in Carthage or to the St. Joseph defendants, the indictment says. The documents were then given to the illegal aliens when they arrived in St. Joseph, and the St. Joseph defendants collected payment from the illegal aliens.
The St. Joseph defendants allegedly accompanied illegal aliens into the local license office under the guise of being translators to assist them with obtaining a state license that was in the name of another person. The St. Joseph defendants instructed and assisted the illegal aliens to practice memorizing the information on the birth certificates and Social Security cards, the indictment says, and to practice signing the name so that the signatures would be similar. They also helped the illegal aliens prepare for potential questions from the license office employees, according to the indictment.
Flores and Vanvacter are the owners of A to Z Auto Credit LLC, a used car dealership in St. Joseph. According to the indictment, they used the business bank account to transfer funds among conspirators and as a mailing address to receive some of the mailed documents.
In addition to the conspiracy, the federal indictment charges various defendants in five counts of transporting illegal aliens, eight counts of unlawfully producing identification documents, nine counts of unlawfully transferring another person's identification, eight counts of Social Security fraud, and nine counts of aggravated identity theft. The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation, which would require the defendants to forfeit to the government any property obtained from the proceeds of the alleged offenses, including a money judgment of $5.25 million.
According to court documents, Martin and Julio Llanas-Rodriguez, Ordonez-Chanas, Bautista-Orozco, Hernandez-Flores, Lara-Rodriguez and Felipe-Lopez are unlawfully present in the United States. Martin Llanas-Rodriguez and Felipe-Lopez have both previously been deported.
Phillips cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jess E. Michaelsen.
It was investigated by the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations; the Buchanan County, Mo., Sheriff's Department; the St. Joseph, Mo., Police Department; the Platte County, Mo., Sheriff's Department; the Missouri State Highway Patrol; the Missouri Department of Revenue Investigation Bureau; the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.