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Document and Benefit Fraud

HSI targets counterfeit document vendors in California's Central Valley

FRESNO, Calif. — Two defendants pleaded guilty, and one defendant was sentenced Monday for their role in separate document counterfeiting schemes uncovered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

In the first case, Fresno resident Marco Antonio Quiahua-Panzo, 20, and Madera resident Omar Hernandez-Gomez, 26, pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell false identification documents. Quiahua-Panzo separately pleaded guilty to being a deported alien found in the United States. The two have been in custody since their arrest Jan. 17.

According to court documents, between October 2012 and January 2013, Quiahua-Panzo and Hernandez-Gomez sold false identification documents to customers in Fresno and Madera counties. They took orders for fraudulent Social Security cards and alien registration cards, also known as "green cards," using the photographs and biographical information provided by their customers. During the course of the conspiracy, Quiahua-Panzo and Hernandez-Gomez sold and delivered at least 10 sets of false documents, charging up to $180 for the sets that included a fraudulent alien registration and Social Security card.

Quiahua-Panzo and Hernandez-Gomez are scheduled to be sentenced in September by Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. They face a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In the second case, Felix Santiago-Matias, 43, of Fresno, became the last of eight defendants to be sentenced for conspiring to produce and sell false identification documents. Judge Ishii sentenced Santiago-Matias Monday to 10 months in prison. Between January 2012 and April 2012, Santiago-Matias sold and delivered fraudulent identification documents to customers for up to $124 per set. The documents were made at various document mills.

"The distribution and sale of counterfeit documents poses a significant security vulnerability, given that these documents can be used to mask individuals' true identities and their potential motives," said Mike Prado, resident agent in charge for HSI Fresno. "For that reason, dismantling document counterfeiting operations and holding those involved accountable continues to be an enforcement priority for Homeland Security Investigations."

Both investigations were carried out by HSI. The Fresno County Sherriff's Office Air Support Unit assisted with the case against Santiago-Matias. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Baker is prosecuting the cases.