MIAMI - Five members of a counterfeit document ring operating out of the Homestead area were arrested Tuesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents as part of a continuing ICE investigation into identity and benefit document fraud. All five defendants had their initial court appearances Wednesday on federal criminal charges.
The defendants were arrested by special agents assigned to ICE's Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF) based on federal arrest warrants. Those arrested included Sonia Margarita Velez-Lebron, 57, of 410 NW 4th Street in Homestead; and her daughter Sonia Margarita Velez a.k.a. Moya, 38, of 1950 NW 9th Court in Homestead; Venancio Guadalupe Perez, 49; Armenia Perez, 39, and their daughter, Flor De Maria Perez, 19, all of 916 NW 4th Terrace in Florida City, Miami.
All five were charged in a 16-count indictment in the Southern District of Florida with 18 USC 1028(f) conspiracy; 18 USC 1028(a) (1) aggravated identity fraud; 18 USC 1028(a) (2) transfer of a false identification document; 18 USC 1028(a) (3) possession with the intent to transfer a counterfeit identity document, and 18 USC 1546(a) possession of a counterfeit alien resident card and social security card. If convicted, they face up to 42 years in prison.
The sale and use of these valid identity documents present a national security and public safety threat because the documents confer all the rights and privileges of a United States citizen for the individual who uses them. Using fraudulent identification presents the opportunity to obtain employment, vote, purchase firearms and obtain passports and other legitimate documents allowing international travel and authorized stay in the United States. During Tuesday's arrests, ICE agents seized computers, counterfeit documents and $10,000 in cash at one of the residences.
"The sale and use of these counterfeit documents are putting the security of our communities and even our country at risk," said Anthony Mangione, ICE special agent-in-charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami. "Documents like these could be exploited by dangerous criminals and even potential terrorists to obscure their identities and cover their tracks. They also pose serious threats to the credit backgrounds of our lawful citizens. We will continue to aggressively target those participating in or facilitating these crimes."
According to the charges, between June 2007 and January 2008, the defendants are charged with producing and possessing forged, counterfeited, and falsely made alien registration receipts and social security cards that used social security numbers that belonged to actual people. They are alleged to have sold 56 counterfeit documents to undercover ICE agents.
This case was part of ICE's Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF). The DBFTF was created in March 2006, to target, seize illicit proceeds of and dismantle the criminal organizations that threaten national security and public safety and address the vulnerabilities that currently exist in the immigration process. Through DBFTFs, ICE partners with other agencies such as the Department of Labor, the Social Security Administration, U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State and various state and local law enforcement agencies. These task forces focus their efforts on detecting, deterring and disrupting both benefit fraud and document fraud. Nationally, ICE has arrested over 1,426 individuals committing such federal crimes.
This case is being prosecuted by United States Attorney Benjamin Daniel.