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January 11, 2021Orlando, FL, United StatesDocument and Benefit Fraud

Fugitive of 35 years, spouse, charged with federal fraud charges

OCALA, Florida – ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Orlando office seized an aircraft Dec. 18, 2020, as part of an investigation stemming from a fraudulent passport application that also exposed a criminal fugitive who had been on the run for 35 years.

Howard D. Farley, Jr., 72, of Weirsdale and Duc Hanh Thi Vu, 56, of Weirsdale, were indicted for passport fraud. Farley was also charged with aggravated identity theft, Social Security fraud, possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon and operating as a pilot without a legitimate airman’s certificate. Vu was additionally charged with false statements to a federal agency and employing a pilot without a legitimate airman’s certificate. The indictment also includes a forfeiture allegation to seize the couple’s aircraft. The HSI Orlando office is the lead investigative agency for the aircraft seizure and part of the team for the overall investigation.

“This investigation reads like a Hollywood script, with a criminal fugitive audacious enough to think he could get a legal U.S. passport,” said HSI Tampa acting Deputy Special Agent in Charge David Pezzutti. “We always work diligently to protect the integrity of our legal international travel documents, but this case also exposed a 35-year fugitive.”

If convicted, Farley faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison. Vu faces a maximum penalty of 18 years in federal prison.

Farley was previously arrested Dec. 2, 2020, as “John Doe,” after federal agents obtained an arrest warrant for passport fraud. Once Farley was fingerprinted, agents confirmed that he had been using the identity of a deceased person for more than 35 years to avoid apprehension in the District of Nebraska where, in 1985, he had been indicted as part of a drug distribution conspiracy. Those charges were dismissed in 2014.

According to the indictment and other court records, in or around Feb. 2020, Farley and Vu, acting together, submitted a passport application using the name and date of birth of an infant who had died in 1955. Farley and Vu failed to disclose Farley’s true identity in the application. They also included a Social Security number for the victim, which Farley had obtained by fraudulent means in 1982.

At the time of his arrest Dec. 2, 2020, authorities executed a search warrant at the couple’s residence, in which agents recovered a firearm and ammunition inside Farley’s nightstand. Farley was convicted in 1970 of a felony in Nebraska and is prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition under federal law. While agents were at the residence, Vu allegedly made false statements regarding the true identity of Farley.

HSI also seized an aircraft located at the residence. While the aircraft was registered to Vu, Farley was the only pilot who operated it. The indictment charges Farley with operating as a pilot without a legitimate airman’s certificate. It further charges Vu with employing Farley as a pilot without a legitimate airman’s certificate. Farley did not have a legitimate airman’s certificate because he falsified his identity to the Federal Aviation Administration. He also failed to disclose his felony conviction from Nebraska and his status as a fugitive from justice. If convicted of these offenses, the aircraft would be subject to forfeiture by the United States.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

This case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the Department of Transportation – Office of Inspector General, the Social Security Administration – Office of the Inspector General, HSI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, with support from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol. It is being prosecuted by the Middle District Florida U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez’s Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael P. Felicetta.

Updated: 01/21/2021