FT.LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Four Florida residents were arrested earlier today and charged in a multi-count indictment with conspiracy to commit immigration fraud and substantive charges related to mail fraud and the sale of fraudulent immigration documents following a joint law enforcement investigation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the State of Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT), and the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Early this morning, federal agents arrested Audie Watson, 75, of Tamarac, Florida, Nancy Vertus, 40, of Lake Worth, Florida, and Anibal Reyes and his wife, Laura Reyes, both 38 and of Port St. Lucie, Florida. According to the Indictment, these individuals were allegedly part of a scheme to sell fraudulent documentation through a company named Universal Services Dedicated to God, Inc., which was located in Tamarac, Florida.
From August 2005 to the present, the defendants conspired to unlawfully enrich themselves through charging aliens who were not eligible for United States citizenship, a fee of $1,500 per alien or $2,000 per couple to make the aliens members of the Pembina Nation Little Shell Tribe. These fees were collected and documents issued for the fraudulent purpose of enabling the aliens to claim to be members of the Pembina Nation Little Shell Tribe. This would allow the aliens to reside and work in the United States to avoid removal from the country.
"U.S. citizenship is not something that can be bought or sold," said Anthony Mangione, special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations." "We will continue to go after these individuals that are jeopardizing our national security and investigate those that are seeking to obtain legal status fraudulently. I want to thank the FBI, ABT and the U.S. Attorney's Office for working with us to bring this case to justice following a two year investigation."
Following their arrests, the defendants made their initial appearances before United States Magistrate Judge Barry S. Seltzer in Ft. Lauderdale. Defendants Anibal and Laura Reyes were arraigned and released on bond. Defendants Watson and Vertus are scheduled for detention hearings and arraignment on Wednesday, September 3, 2008.
If convicted, the defendants face maximum penalties of up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the conspiracy to commit mail and immigration fraud charge; and up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for the mail fraud charge; and up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the false immigration document charge.
U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the FBI, ICE, ABT, BSO, USPS, U.S. Social Security, USSS, ATF, MDPD, City of Miami Police Department, and FDLE. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jennifer Keene and Jeffrey Kay of the Ft. Lauderdale office of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida.