RICHMOND, Va. - Juan Arroyo-Pantoja, 33, of Wilmington, N.C., was sentenced today to 44 months in prison after pleading guilty to participating in a racketeering conspiracy. The conspiracy was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The defendant is also illegally within the United States and will be deported following the service of his prison sentence by ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).
Arroyo-Pantoja was the leader of a North Carolina cell of a highly sophisticated and violent fraudulent document trafficking organization based in Mexico, with cells in 19 cities within the United States and 11 states, including three cells in Virginia.
"This sentence helps close the book on this criminal organization," said John P. Torres, special agent in charge of ICE HSI field office in Washington, D.C. "ICE HSI works tirelessly to protect communities from criminals who try to exploit the immigration system by producing and distributing fraudulent documents."
According to the indictment, Israel Cruz Millan, a/k/a "El Muerto," 28, of Raleigh, N.C., managed the organization's operations in the United States, overseeing 19 cells in 11 states, including three in Virginia, that produced high-quality false identification cards distributed to illegal aliens. In each city where the organization operated, Millan placed a cell manager to supervise a number of "runners," the lower level members of the organization 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 allegedly maintained detailed sales records and divided the proceeds between the runner, the cell manager, and the upper level managers in Mexico. The indictment states that from January 2008 through November 2010, members of the organization wired more than $1 million to Mexico.
The indictment alleges that members of the organization sought to drive competitors from their territory by posing as customers in search of fraudulent documents and then attacking the competitors when they arrived to make a sale. These attacks allegedly 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. It is charged that the victims were left bound at the scene of the attack, and the indictment states that at least one victim died from the beatings.
Cruz Millan is accused of tightly controlling the organization's activities by keeping in regular contact with cell managers about fraudulent document inventory, biweekly sales reports and the presence of any rival document vendors. The indictment alleges that members of the organization who violated internal rules imposed by Millan were subject to discipline, including shaving eyebrows, wearing weights, beatings, and other violent acts.
In entering a guilty plea to the racketeering conspiracy charge, Arroyo-Pantoja admitted being the supervisor of a cell located in Wilmington, N.C., which also supplied fraudulent documents for the Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Twenty-seven members of the organization were originally arrested on Nov. 18, 2010. To date, 22 of those arrested have pleaded guilty. Five defendants remain pending for trial, which has been scheduled for Oct. 17, 2011.
The investigation was led by ICE HSI in Norfolk, which is part of the Washington, D.C., office. ICE HSI received assistance from the Virginia State Police and Chesterfield County Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Gill and Angela Mastandrea-Miller and Trial Attorney Addison Thompson, of the Criminal Division's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, are prosecuting the case.
Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.