CHICAGO - Special agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) on Thursday arrested seven alleged members of a counterfeit document ring in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood.
Jorge Castillo, 48, and Jorge Castillo-Arroyo, 24, father and son, were two of seven defendants who were arrested early Oct. 28. ICE HSI agents executed arrest warrants to dismantle the "Avers Crew," which is comprised of several Castillo family members and allegedly made and sold fake identification documents in and around the area of 26th Street and Avers Avenue.
"Counterfeit identity documents, like the ones allegedly produced by this ring, can be used by criminals, enabling them to mask their identities and operate with ease in the United States," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Chicago. "Given the public security implications, ICE aggressively targets these kinds of document fraud schemes and shuts them down." Hartwig announced the charges, which were unsealed today, with Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. The Chicago and Elgin police departments and the Drug Enforcement Administration also assisted in the investigation.
According to court documents, on April 27 one of two cooperating witnesses contacted Jorge Castillo to arrange a meeting to purchase software used to make counterfeit identification documents for $3,000, which they had previously discussed. Castillo met the cooperating witnesses at 47th St. and Pulaski Rd. Under audio and video surveillance, he entered their vehicle and directed them to a basement apartment in the 3200 block of West 65th Pl. Inside the apartment, Castillo introduced the two cooperating witnesses to his son, Jorge Castillo-Arroyo. The son explained how the software worked and provided step-by-step instructions on how to make fraudulent documents, noting that the program included templates for the new form of driver's licenses being used in Illinois.
Castillo-Arroyo ejected a compact disc from a computer and handed it to the cooperating witnesses who paid $3,000 that was provided by ICE HSI agents. Castillo-Arroyo suggested the type of paper they should use in printing documents. He also told them that he purchased laminating materials with "seals," a reference to holograms used as authentication features on documents, from a Los Angeles source for $5 per seal. Castillo-Arroyo gave the cooperating witnesses two uncut sheets of laminates with hologram seals of the U.S. Department of Justice, a depiction of the Statue of Liberty, and printing referring to the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. ICE HSI agents subsequently reviewed the disc and found that it could be used to manufacture green cards, Social Security cards, and driver's licenses for the following eight states: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Texas, according to the charges.
Federal agents have previously dismantled alleged counterfeit identification document rings operating in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood by using undercover agents and cooperating witnesses to purchase bogus documents before making arrests. The latest law enforcement investigation unveiled Thursday, however, has a twist. In addition to making undercover purchases of fake documents, two cooperating individuals allegedly purchased computer software used to manufacture the fake documents that fuel an open-air black market - in this case, allegedly protected by a street gang - along 26th Street on the city's west side.
Castillo and Castillo-Arroyo were charged together in a criminal complaint with possessing and transferring materials to produce false identification documents. The following individuals were also arrested on Oct. 28 and charged in separate complaints with transferring false identification documents: Francisco Castillo, 42, aka "Mini;" Juan Castillo-Santos, 37, aka Pancho;" Jesus Castillo-Luciano, 23, aka "Moco;" Jacobo Velasquez, 35, aka "Chiquis;" and Porfirio Alvarez-Cortez, age unknown, all from Chicago. Jorge Castillo, Francisco Castillo and Juan Castillo-Santos are believed to be brothers; Jorge Castillo-Arroyo and Jesus Castillo-Luciano are believed to be sons or nephews of the three brothers.
All seven defendants, who are believed to be in the country illegally, are scheduled to appear Oct. 29 before Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow in U.S. District Court.
According to the complaint affidavits, the investigation began in March 2009 when ICE HSI agents received information about a group of individuals selling fraudulent identification documents in the vicinity of 26th and Avers. Undercover ICE HSI agents then purchased green cards and Social Security cards from a street vendor allegedly working for the Avers crew on four occasions between March and July 2009. The street vendor was arrested and subsequently began to cooperate with the investigation.
ICE HSI agents allegedly learned from cooperating witnesses that "Mini" (Francisco Castillo) and "Pancho" (Juan Castillo-Santos) had run the Avers Crew since at least 2008. At any given time, about 10 individuals on the street near 26th and Avers solicited customers orally or by making hand gestures. The street vendors worked in shifts, generally from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. According to the affidavits, "Mini" and "Pancho" allegedly exercised control over the area by paying a "street tax" of $400 to $600 a week to the Two-Six Nation street gang to allow their vendors to solicit customers in the area. The charges allege that anyone who did not work for the Avers Crew would be subject to beatings by gang members if they attempted to sell fake identification documents in the same area.
The street vendors typically charged between $80 and $150 for a set of fake documents and kept any profit after paying $50 per set to the crew leaders. A set generally consisted of a fraudulent Social Security card and a fraudulent photo identification card, such as a U.S. Permanent Resident card, state identification card, or driver's license. Vendors sold, on average, about five or more sets per day.
Francisco Castillo and Juan Castillo-Santos allegedly manufactured the counterfeit documents in locations known as "mills." They allegedly used computers, printers, scanners, laminators and other equipment, and alternated weeks during which each was responsible for manufacturing. The charges allege that each of them, as well as Jesus Castillo-Luciano, Jacobo Velasquez and Porfirio Alvarez-Cortez, sold at least one or more sets of fraudulent documents to cooperating witnesses during the past year.
In April 2007 and again in September 2008, ICE HSI agents dismantled similar fraudulent identification document rings operated by alleged members of the "St. Louis" and "Albany" crews, which allegedly controlled the manufacture and sale of fake documents in the vicinity of the two avenues that intersect with 26th Street, also in Little Village.
Transferring fraudulent identification documents or materials used to manufacture such documents carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Young, Northern District of Illinois, is prosecuting this case.
The public is reminded that complaints contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.