RICHMOND, Va.– A 28-year-old Mexican national residing in Fayetteville, Ark., was sentenced on Sept. 26 to 60 months in prison for his role in a racketeering conspiracy. Diego Cortez-Angel was the leader of an Arkansas cell of a highly sophisticated and violent fraudulent document trafficking organization based in Mexico, with cells in 19 cities and 11 states within the United States, including three cells in Virginia. This sentencing follows an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
"The sentence handed down today reflects the serious nature of the crimes committed by this individual," said John P. Torres, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Washington, D.C. "ICE HSI is committed to stopping those who enable criminals to obscure their identities and cover their tracks through the use of fraudulent documents."
According to the indictment, Israel Cruz Millan, a/k/a "El Muerto," 28, of Raleigh, N.C., managed the organization's operations in the United States, which produced high-quality false identification cards distributed to illegal aliens. In each city where the organization operated, Millan placed a cell manager to supervise a number of "runners," the lower level members of the organization who distributed business cards advertising the organization's services and helped facilitate transactions with customers. The cost of fraudulent documents varied depending on the location, with counterfeit resident alien and Social Security cards typically selling from $150 to $200. Each cell allegedly maintained detailed sales records and divided the proceeds between the runner, cell manager, and upper level managers in Mexico. The indictment states that from January 2008 through November 2010, members of the organization wired more than $1 million to Mexico.
The indictment alleges that members of the organization sought to drive competitors from their territory by posing as customers in search of fraudulent documents and then attacking the competitors when they arrived to make a sale. These attacks allegedly included binding the victims' hands, feet and mouth; repeatedly beating them; and threatening them with death if they continued to sell false identification documents in the area. It is charged that the victims were left bound at the scene of the attack, and the indictment states that at least one victim died from the beatings.
Cruz Millan is accused of tightly controlling the organization's activities by keeping in regular contact with cell managers about fraudulent document inventory, bi-weekly sales reports and the presence of any rival document vendors. The indictment alleges that members of the organization who violated internal rules imposed by Millan were subject to discipline, including shaving eyebrows, wearing weights, beatings, and other violent acts.
In entering a guilty plea to the racketeering conspiracy charge, Diego Cortez-Angel admitted being the supervisor of a cell located in Fayetteville.
Twenty-seven members of the organization were originally arrested on Nov. 18, 2010. To date, 22 of those arrested have pleaded guilty in this case. Five defendants remain pending for trial, which has been scheduled for Oct. 17, 2011.
The investigation was led by the Norfolk ICE HSI office. ICE HSI received assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Virginia State Police and Chesterfield County Police Department. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Gill and Angela Mastandrea-Miller and Trial Attorney Addison Thompson, of the Criminal Division's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.