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Document and Benefit Fraud

45th defendant sentenced to more than 6 years in federal prison for trafficking identities of Puerto Rican US citizens

WASHINGTON — A Dominican national was sentenced Monday to six years and three months in federal prison for his role in trafficking the identities and corresponding identity documents of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens.

This sentence was announced by the following agency heads: Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. O'Neil of the Justice Department's Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Rosa E. Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas S. Winkowski of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); Chief Postal Inspector Guy J. Cottrell of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS); Director Gregory B. Starr of the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS); and Chief Richard Weber of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).

Jorge Luis "Daniel" Mendez, 38, a Dominican national formerly of San Juan, Puerto Rico, was sentenced to 75 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. He was further ordered to forfeit $422,793 in illegal proceeds by U.S. District Judge Juan M. Pérez-Giménez, District of Puerto Rico. Because Mendez is living illegally in the United States, the government will seek his deportation after he completes his prison sentence.

On Dec. 3, 2013, Mendez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit human smuggling for financial gain, and three counts of aggravated identity theft. To date, 53 individuals have been charged for their roles in the identity trafficking scheme. All 49 arrested defendants have pleaded guilty. Mendez is the 45th defendant that has been sentenced.

According to court documents, individuals located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Other conspirators located in various cities throughout the United States solicited customers and sold Social Security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set.

The identity brokers in the United States ordered the identity documents from the document suppliers in Savarona, on behalf of their customers, by making coded telephone calls. The conspirators were charged with using text messages, money transfer services and express, priority or regular U.S. mail to complete their illicit transactions.

The court documents indicate that some of the conspirators assumed a Puerto Rican identity themselves and used that identity in connection with the trafficking operation. Their customers generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and to obtain additional identification documents, such as legitimate state driver's licenses. Some customers obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport.

Mendez was a supplier of Puerto Rican identity documents who operated in San Juan and provided Puerto Rican identities to brokers in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, knowing that the identities would be sold to illegal aliens so they could pose as U.S. citizens. Court documents show that Mendez was a manager and supervisor in the conspiracy.

Various identity brokers were operating in the following U.S. locations: Rockford, DeKalb and Aurora, Ill.; Seymour, Columbus and Indianapolis, Ind.; Hartford, Conn.; Clewiston, Fla.; Lilburn and Norcross, Ga.; Salisbury, Md.; Columbus and Fairfield, Ohio; Dorchester, Lawrence, Salem and Worcester, Mass.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nebraska City, Neb.; Elizabeth, N.J.; Burlington and Hickory, N.C.; Hazelton and Philadelphia, Pa; Houston, Texas; Abingdon and Albertville, Ala.; and Providence, R.I.

These charges resulted from Operation Island Express, an ongoing, nationally coordinated investigation led by HSI Chicago and USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices in Chicago, in coordination with HSI San Juan and the DSS Resident Office in Puerto Rico. The following agencies provided substantial assistance: Illinois Secretary of State Police; Elgin, Ill., Police Department; Seymour, Ind., Police Department; and Indiana State Police. The following agencies also provided invaluable support: HSI Attaché Dominican Republic and International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2), various ICE offices, USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices around the country.

This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys James S. Yoon, Hope S. Olds, Courtney B. Schaefer and Christina Giffin of the Criminal Division's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, with the assistance of the Criminal Division's Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, and the support of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Puerto Rico. The following U.S. Attorney's offices also provided substantial assistance: Northern District of Illinois, Southern District of Indiana, District of Connecticut, District of Massachusetts, District of Nebraska, Middle District of North Carolina, Southern District of Ohio, Middle District of Pennsylvania, District of Rhode Island, Southern District of Texas and Western District of Virginia.

Potential victims and the public may obtain information about the case at the following website: www.justice.gov/criminal/vns/caseup/beltrerj.html. Anyone who believes their identity may have been compromised in relation to this investigation may contact the ICE toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) or its online tip form at www.ice.gov/tipline. Anyone who may have information about particular crimes in this case should report them to the ICE tip line or the website.

Anyone who believes that they have been a victim of identity theft, or wants information about preventing identity theft, may obtain helpful information and complaint forms on various government websites including the Federal Trade Commission ID Theft website, www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Additional resources regarding identity theft can be found at the following websites: www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/pubs/ID_theft/idtheft.html; www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html; www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/identity_theft; and www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=186436,00.html.