RICHMOND, Va. – The leader of a highly sophisticated and violent interstate fraudulent document trafficking organization based in Mexico pleaded guilty on Tuesday for his role in the operation. The plea comes as a result of a nearly two-year long investigation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Israel Cruz Millan, a/k/a "El Muerto," 26, of Raleigh, N.C., pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to produce and transfer false identification documents, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He will be sentenced on Feb. 16, 2012.
"This guilty plea is a major step in the process of holding Mr. Millan and his organization accountable for its criminal activities," said John P. Torres, special agent in charge of the ICE HSI field office in Washington, D.C. "This case has demonstrated that the pursuit of large volumes of illegal proceeds from the production and distribution of fraudulent identification documents can cause the development of highly organized and violent criminal organizations. ICE HSI, in partnership with other law enforcement agencies, will continue its efforts at preventing these types of organizations from making their way into our communities."
Millan's organization had cells in 19 cities and 11 states, including three cells in Virginia. He admitted to managing the organization's operations in the United States by overseeing cells in nearly a dozen states that produced high-quality false identification cards to illegal aliens. He placed a manager in each city, each of whom supervised a number of "runners" who distributed business cards advertising the organization's services and helped facilitate transactions with customers. The cost of fraudulent documents varied depending on the location, with counterfeit resident alien and Social Security cards typically selling from $150 to $200. Each cell maintained detailed sales records and divided the proceeds between the runner, the cell manager, and the upper level managers in Mexico. From January 2008 through November 2010, members of the organization wired more than $1 million to Mexico.
Millan also admitted in court that his organization sought to drive competitors from their territory by posing as customers and attacking them when they arrived to make a sale. These attacks included binding the victims' hands, feet and mouth; repeatedly beating them, and threatening them with death if they continued to sell false identification documents in the area. The victims were left bound at the scene of the attack, and at least one victim died from the beatings.
Court records indicate that in June 2009, members of Millan's organization in Richmond, Va., lured two rival sellers to a home, bound them, struck them with a baseball bat and cut them with a knife, and then placed a semi-automatic handgun in a rival's mouth and warned him about selling false identification documents in Richmond. In November 2010, Millan and a conspirator complained that a rival seller in Nashville, Tenn., continued to operate on their turf even after they had beat him up. Millan instructed his subordinate to find an empty house to take care of the rival, cautioning him to wear gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints and to avoid using a gun which would create too much noise when fired.
Millan tightly controlled the activities of the organization, keeping in regular contact with cell managers about inventory, bi-weekly sales reports and competition. Members who violated internal rules within the operation were subject to discipline, including shaving eyebrows, wearing weights, beatings, and other violent acts.
Twenty-seven members of the organization were originally arrested on Nov. 18, 2010. To date, 26 of those arrested have pleaded guilty.
The investigation was led by ICE HSI in Norfolk, which falls under the Washington, D.C., office. ICE HSI received assistance from the Virginia State Police and Chesterfield County Police Department.