WASHINGTON — A Mexican national was sentenced Monday to 54 months in prison for trafficking the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department's Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Rosa E. Rodríguez-Vélez for the District of Puerto Rico; Director John Morton of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Chief Postal Inspector Guy J. Cottrell of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS); Director Scott P. Bultrowicz of the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS); and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Chief Richard Weber.
Jose Sergio Garcia-Ramirez, 37, formerly of Rockford, Ill., was sentenced Nov. 26 by U.S. District Judge Gustavo A. Gelpí, in the District of Puerto Rico. Judge Gelpí also ordered Garcia-Ramirez to forfeit $35,900 in proceeds and ordered the removal of Garcia-Ramirez from the United States after the completion of his sentence.
On July 17, Garcia-Ramirez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit identification fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce J. McGiverin in the District of Puerto Rico.
Garcia-Ramirez was charged in a superseding indictment returned March 22 by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico. To date, 53 individuals have been charged for their roles in the identity trafficking scheme; 18 defendants have pleaded guilty.
Court documents allege that individuals located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico (Savarona suppliers), obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Other conspirators located in various cities throughout the United States (identity brokers) allegedly solicited customers and sold Social Security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set.
The superseding indictment alleges that identity brokers ordered the identity documents from Savarona suppliers, on behalf of the customers, by making coded telephone calls. The conspirators are charged with using text messages, money transfer services and express, priority or regular U.S. mail to complete their illicit transactions.
Court documents allege that some identity brokers assumed a Puerto Rican identity themselves and used that identity in connection with the trafficking operation. Their customers allegedly generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and to obtain additional identification documents, such as legitimate state driver's licenses. Some customers allegedly obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport.
According to court documents, various identity brokers were operating in the following locations: Rockford, Ill.; DeKalb, Ill.; Aurora, Ill.; Seymour, Ind.; Columbus, Ind.; Indianapolis; Hartford, Conn.; Clewiston, Fla.; Lilburn, Ga.; Norcross, Ga.; Salisbury, Md.; Columbus, Ohio; Fairfield, Ohio; Dorchester, Mass.; Lawrence, Mass.; Salem, Mass.; Worcester, Mass.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nebraska City, Neb.; Elizabeth, N.J.; Burlington, N.C.; Hickory, N.C.; Hazelton, Pa.; Philadelphia; Houston; Abingdon, Va.; Albertville, Ala.; and Providence, R.I.
Garcia-Ramirez admitted that he was an identity broker in the conspiracy, operating in Illinois. Garcia-Ramirez is the fourth defendant to be sentenced in this case.
The charges are the result of Operation Island Express, an ongoing, nationally-coordinated investigation led by HSI Chicago and USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices in Chicago, in coordination with HSI San Juan. The following agencies provided substantial assistance: Illinois Secretary of State Police; Elgin (Ill.) Police Department; Seymour (Ind.) Police Department; and Indiana State Police. The HSI Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center, as well as various ICE, USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices around the country, also provided invaluable assistance.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys James S. Yoon, Hope S. Olds, Courtney B. Schaefer and Christina Giffin of the Justice Department Criminal Division's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, with the assistance of Acting Deputy Chief Jeannette Gunderson of the Criminal Division's Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, and the support of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Attorney's Offices in the Northern District of Illinois, Southern District of Indiana, District of Connecticut, District of Massachusetts, District of Nebraska, Middle District of North Carolina, Southern District of Ohio and Western District of Virginia provided substantial assistance.
Potential victims and the public may obtain information about the case at: www.justice.gov/criminal/vns/caseup/beltrerj.html. Anyone who believes their identity may have been compromised in relation to this investigation may contact the ICE toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) and its online tip form at www.ice.gov/tipline. Anyone who may have information about particular crimes in this case should also report it to the ICE tip line or website.
Anyone who believes that they have been a victim of identity theft, or wants information about preventing identity theft, may obtain helpful information and complaint forms on various government websites including the Federal Trade Commission ID theft website, www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Additional resources regarding identity theft can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/pubs/ID_theft/idtheft.html; www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html; www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/identity_theft; and www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=186436,00.html.