EL PASO, Texas - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents here on Friday arrested a mother and son who allegedly participated in a scheme spearheaded by the family patriarch that defrauded local investors out of tens of thousands of dollars.
Martha Patricia Muñoz, 47, was arrested at her Westside residence; her son, Elias Jacob Muñoz III, 22, was arrested at the University of Texas at El Paso where he is enrolled as a student. The mother and son are both charged with fraud by wire, and attempt and conspiracy to commit fraud by wire.
Elias Muñoz Jr., 49, was arrested in May after he promised a 10-to-1 return on a $65,000 loan to an ICE undercover special agent who he believed to be a potential investor. The elder Muñoz allegedly organized the scheme that consisted of using fraudulent government documents and seals to defraud people of large sums of money. The scam, similar to the so-called "Nigerian scams," consisted of telling people about their large sum of money, but assistance is needed to move it to the United States. The scam artist requests payment from investors to help free up millions of dollars oversees while promising a large return on the money invested.
ICE special agents began their investigation in November 2006 after multiple victims reported that the elder Muñoz had defrauded them out of about $52,000. The victims told ICE agents that Muñoz falsely stated to them that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had seized $25 million at the El Paso International Airport, and he needed to raise a large sum to claim his money.
Muñoz, owner of EMI & Associates, presented counterfeit documents bearing U.S. government seals that falsely indicated that Muñoz had to pay multiple fees before DHS would release the money to him. He also falsely represented to his victims that if they loaned the defendant the money to pay the fees, he would immediately liquidate the loan with a high rate of interest.
The ICE investigation revealed that in the past three years, Muñoz may have defrauded more than $230,000 from as many as 30 people in El Paso and San Angelo, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. He allegedly owes his so-called investors more than $500,000.
Martha Patricia Muñoz participated in two meetings between her husband and an ICE undercover agent. The younger Muñoz allegedly helped his father with his financial business by serving as a witness to contracts that the elder Muñoz and his investors signed.
"This case serves as a common-sense reminder that if a business proposition sounds too good to be true, it probably is," said Julio Velez, acting deputy special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in El Paso. "ICE aggressively pursues these scam artists. However, the best way to prevent being scammed is to avoid get-rich-quick schemes altogether."
Both mother and son were to have their initial appearance in federal court Monday.
The elder Muñoz is under indictment charged with one count of wire fraud, and three counts of government seals wrongfully used. He is free on bond awaiting trial. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison, three years supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.
Others who may have been victimized by this scheme may call ICE Senior Special Agent Omar Fournier at (915) 231-3430.