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June 7, 2021El Paso, TX, United StatesFinancial Crimes

HSI El Paso investigation results in guilty pleas in mail fraud, aggravated identity theft scheme case

EL PASO, Texas — Two Dominican Republic citizens pleaded guilty June 7 to using stolen personal identification information to obtain high-end electronic devices, such as cell phones, laptop computers, tablets and watches.

Special agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) assigned to El Paso assisted by the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) investigated this case.

Wilver Jose Polanco Alvarez, 26, residing in Miami, and Jose Eduardo Gomez Salas, 25, residing in New York, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft. Both appeared before Senior U.S. District Judge David Briones.

According to court documents, CBP officers at the Paso Del Norte International Bridge in El Paso encountered the defendants on April 11, 2020. During an inspection, officers seized several electronic devices belonging to the defendants. A subsequent review of Gomez’s iPhone revealed personal identification information of multiple individuals as well as photographs of Polanco assuming and utilizing different aliases in the form of fraudulent driver’s licenses from Indiana, Texas, California, New Mexico, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Further investigation revealed that the defendants operated a scheme in at least five different states with the help of others to purchase and activate cell phones and other electronic devices at retail stores using fraudulent identification documents and stolen personal identification information to include wireless account information. After collecting the new phones and devices, Gomez mailed the items to 28-year-old alleged ringleader Marcos Andres Briceno-Romero in New Jersey.

Polanco and Gomez have remained in federal custody since their arrest in April 2020. They face up to 20 years in federal prison on the conspiracy charge. Each aggravated identity theft charge calls for a mandatory two years in federal prison. Sentencing has yet to be scheduled.

Jury selection and trial has yet to be scheduled for three remaining co-defendants: Briceno-Romero, 21-year-old Wiktoria Lawika of New York and 20-year-old Justin Brito of New York.

U.S. Attorney Sarah Valenzuela is prosecuting this case.

HSI is a directorate of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 Special Agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Updated: 06/15/2021