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Financial Crimes

Restaurant owner sentenced in 2 million dollar, faked-death fraud scheme

PENSACOLA, Fla. - Ismael B. Rodriguez, 45, the owner of Cazadores Mexican Restaurants in Pensacola, was sentenced Tuesday to 5 years in federal prison for mail fraud and conspiracy, following a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Florida Department of Financial Services - Fraud Division.

He was also ordered to pay $4,645 in restitution and $1,200 in fines and court costs.

"The sentencing of this individual should be a warning about the serious consequences of committing financial fraud," said Susan McCormick, special agent in charge of the ICE HSI office that oversees Pensacola. "Together with our state, local and federal partners, ICE will continue to investigate these kinds of cases and ensure that the people who commit these crimes are held accountable for their actions."

Rodriguez was convicted along with his wife and co-defendant, Maria Rodriguez, 41, following a two-day jury trial in Pensacola last November.

Evidence at the trial established that the husband and wife traveled to Mexico in 2008, where they faked the death of Ismael. Maria returned to the United States with a fraudulent Mexican death certificate in an attempt to obtain approximately $2 million in life insurance proceeds on her husband. In reality, Ismael was alive and was subsequently located by law enforcement in Alabama.

Witnesses at trial included employees of the insurance company, the registrar of death certificates in Morelia, Mexico, and law enforcement agents. During the trial, Maria testified that she believed that her husband had been kidnapped and murdered in Mexico. To refute this testimony, the government introduced U.S. Customs and Border Protection records showing that Ismael had crossed the United States-Mexico border during the time period in which his wife claimed he was dead.

Maria will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Pensacola on Feb. 11.

"We are grateful for the tremendous efforts of the prosecution and investigation team, gathering irrefutable evidence and testimony, leading to this result in favor of justice. Such brazen criminal conduct intending to defraud financial institutions will not be tolerated," said U.S. Attorney Pamela C. Marsh, of the Northern District of Florida.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney David L. Goldberg.