BOSTON – Twelve individuals were arrested and charged Thursday in Boston as a result of a large document and benefit fraud investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Boston’s Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF).
The investigation targeted document and benefit offenders who allegedly used the identities of U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico as their own. Ten of the 12 individuals charged today are unlawfully present in the United States, and six have criminal records in the names of the victims whose identities they stole.
Of those arrested in the multiagency operation 12 were Dominican nationals, ten of whom were illegally present in the United States, with one a lawful permanent resident, and one with pending immigration applications. Eleven of the targets were arrested pursuant to federal arrest warrants issued in the District of Massachusetts for charges of aggravated identity theft and misuse of a Social Security Number; the final target was arrested on probable cause for the same violations. Additionally, nine federal search warrants were executed at locations in Lawrence, Methuen and Mattapan, which resulted in the seizure of a small quantity of suspected narcotics, a kilogram press and multiple fraudulent identification documents. HSI Boston also administratively arrested and processed three individuals encountered during the operation who were found to be illegally present in the United States.
HSI Boston’s DBFTF is the specialized field investigative group comprised of personnel from various local, state, and federal agencies that join together to detect, deter and disrupt organizations and individuals involved in a wide range of document, identity and benefit fraud schemes. The Boston DBFTF includes representatives from the Offices of Inspectors General from the U.S. Department of Health, U.S. Social Security Administration, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Massachusetts State Police and the Office of the Massachusetts State Auditor.
“This case is part of our ongoing effort to target federal crime in the Lawrence area,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, “and we will keep up the pressure for as long as necessary. The 12 men and women charged allegedly stole and used the identities of U.S. citizens to live illegally in the United States, receive government benefits in the names of their victims, and even commit crimes in the names of those victims. This is a rampant problem, and my office is committed to helping those whose identities have been compromised to regain control over their lives.”
“My Office and our partners take document benefit fraud very seriously,” said Scott Antolik, Special Agent in Charge of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations, Boston Field Division. “Those who misuse Social Security numbers affect the integrity of the entire Social Security system.”
“Document and identity fraud are serious crimes with far reaching and significant consequences for the individual victims, and which carry the potential for a broader threat to public safety and homeland security,” said Colonel Kerry Gilpin, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police. “We were pleased to be able to work with our law enforcement partners on this important operation.”
This operation is part of an ongoing investigation initiated in December 2018 to identify illegal aliens who fraudulently used the stolen identifies of U.S. citizens born in Puerto Rico. Analysis from this phase of the investigation revealed that many of the wire transfers discovered are believed to be illicit proceeds of narcotics trafficking and/or alien smuggling, with funds wired to areas of concern in Mexico, including Juarez, Sinaloa, Mexico City, and Culiacan, and along with Southwest U.S. border.
The Boston DBFTF continues to investigate suspected aliens who are believed to have obtained stolen identities of United States citizens born in Puerto Rico and who use those stolen identities to obtain public benefits they would not otherwise be eligible to receive, including Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles identity documents, Social Security numbers, and Medicaid, and to engage in suspicious financial transactions, including transferring funds.
The charge of aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year sentence that must run consecutively to any other sentence imposed, up to one year of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. False representation of a Social Security number provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Boston, made the announcement along with United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Scott Antolik, Special Agent in Charge of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations, Boston Field Division; and Colonel Kerry Gilpin, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police. Valuable assistance was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, Northeast Regional Office; the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations; the U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, Boston Field Office; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the Lawrence, Methuen, and Boston Police Departments. The Criminal Division of the Office of U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Andrew E. Lelling are prosecuting the cases.