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Document and Benefit Fraud

13 indicted for selling counterfeit documents at Houston flea markets

HOUSTON - Thirteen individuals were charged by indictment on Monday for allegedly conspiring to possess or obtain counterfeit identity documents.  The indictments were announced by U. S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas, and Michael Fienberg, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) acting special agent in charge.

"The sale of counterfeit identification documents is a matter of national security," said U. S. Attorney José Angel Moreno. "These types of enforcements actions are necessary to secure our borders and protect our citizens."
Two indictments charging a total of 20 persons returned under seal by a Houston grand jury on July 22 resulted from an 18-month investigation dubbed "Operation Fake I. D.," conducted by the ICE-HSI-led Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF), which includes special agents from the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and officers of the Houston Police Department. "Operation Fake I. D." focused its investigative efforts on individuals allegedly involved in trafficking counterfeit government identity documents, including U.S. permanent resident cards, at the Sunny, La Tia Pancha and Cintas flea markets in north Houston.

Warrants issued following the return of the indictments were executed by investigating agents beginning July 23 through the weekend, including arrests July 24 at the Sunny, La Tia Pancha and Cintas flea markets.  So far, 13 defendants have been arrested.  Warrants remain outstanding for those charged but not yet in custody. All defendants in custody are expected to appear before U. S. Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy July 26 when the issue of bond is expected to be raised.  The indictments have been ordered unsealed.

"ICE's HSI-led Document and Benefit Task Force provides a comprehensive approach in targeting criminal organizations and individuals involved in illegally manufacturing and selling fraudulent documents," said Michael Fienberg, acting special agent in charge of ICE-HSI in Houston. "HSI and its agency partners are committed to stopping this threat that undermines our nation's security."

The first of the two indictments charges a total of 17 defendants. All 17 are accused of being involved in a conspiracy to solicit customers at the various flea markets in north Houston to purchase counterfeit U.S. permanent resident cards and other identifying documents beginning in or about February 2009 through June 2010. The customers were allegedly photographed and asked to provide other information necessary to complete the counterfeit immigrant and non-immigrant government documents. Once the photograph and information was obtained, the information was communicated via telephone, text messaging or courier to other co-conspirators operating a counterfeit government document production mill which produced the counterfeit documents which were then sold to customers.  A conviction for this conspiracy charge carries a maximum punishment of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

The remaining nine counts of the indictment charges individual defendants separately for alleged specific instances of fraud and misuse of visas - knowingly possessing a forged, counterfeited, altered or falsely made form I-551 or U.S. Permanent Resident card - between July 26, 2009 through July 10, 2010. A conviction for any one of these offenses carries a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Two defendants charged in the second indictment and charged in all three counts - conspiracy to solicit customers at the various flea markets in north Houston to purchase counterfeit U.S. Permanent Resident cards and other identifying documents beginning in or about January 2009 through July 2010 and two substantive counts for alleged specific instances of fraud and misusing visas in April and July 2010 - were also arrested on July 24.  Both defendants face the same statutory penalties as the defendants in the first indictment upon conviction and are also in federal custody pending a detention hearing.

The defendants charged in the 10 count indictment are ("*" denotes in federal custody): Name, Age, Nationality (LNU = "last name unknown")

  • Israel Arroyo-Mora, 37, Mexico "El Tio," true name Salvador Cobos-Lima, 59,
  • Mexico Valentin Romero-Cortez, aka "Carlos," 50, Mexico
  • Claudia Perez-Luna aka Claudia Del Villar, 53, Mexico
  • Juan Carlos Morales-Garcia, aka "Toto," 38, Mexico
  • Erika Cortez-Lopez, 35, Mexico
  • Leonardo LNU
  • "Gordo," true name Dagoberto Cacares, 33, Honduras
  • "Baina," true name Carlos Joel Rosario-Solis, 21, Dominican Republic
  • Raul Martin Puga, 41, Mexico
  • Zeferino Romero-Cortez, 35, Mexico
  • FLU LNU (star tattoos on elbows), true name
  • Valentin Leonardo Romero-Cortez, 29, Mexico
  • Jairo Bravo Luna, 23, U. S. citizen
  • Suzanne Marie Ortegon, 23, U. S. citizen
  • Cesar Llaguno-Romero, 23, Mexico
  • Eulalio David Velazquez-Garduno, 23, Mexico
  • Rodolfo Heredia Monroy, 34, Mexico

The defendants named and charged in the second indictment are:

  • David LNU (1), true name Oscar David Cervantes-Munoz, 26, Mexico
  • David LNU (2), true name Plutarco Cervantes-Munoz, 33, Mexico
  • David LNU (3).