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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Foreign National Pleads Guilty to Leading Role in Trafficking the Identities of Puerto Rican U.S. Citizens
Co-Defendant Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Alien Smuggling for Financial Gain

WASHINGTON – A Dominican national pleaded guilty today in connection with his leading role in trafficking the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents. 

The guilty plea was announced by 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); Scott P. Bultrowicz, Director of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS); and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Chief Richard Weber.

Rafael Joaquin Beltre-Beltre, 35, formerly of Caguas, Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for financial gain and one count of international money laundering.  He also agreed to forfeit $422,793 in illegal proceeds and deportation after serving his sentence.  The plea took place in the District of Puerto Rico before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marcos E. Lopez.

Beltre-Beltre was charged in a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico on Mar. 22, 2012.  To date, a total of 53 individuals have been charged for their roles in the identity trafficking scheme.

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 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.

Beltre-Beltre admitted that he operated as a Savarona supplier and was a leader and organizer in the conspiracy.  At sentencing, Beltre-Beltre faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for conspiracy to commit identification fraud, 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for financial gain and 20 years in prison for international money laundering.  Beltre-Beltre is also subject to a maximum fine of $250,000 for each charge.

Another defendant involved in the scheme, Alma Yesenia Garcia-Ramirez, 28, a foreign national formerly of Crystal Lake, Ill., pleaded guilty today to one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for financial gain and agreed to forfeit $35,900 in illegal proceeds as well as to deportation to Mexico after serving her sentence.  According to court documents, Garcia-Ramirez assisted an Illinois-based identity broker and transferred money on behalf of the organization.  Additionally, she used a Puerto Rican identity herself to commit financial fraud and traffic the identities.  Garcia-Ramirez also admitted to obstructing justice in relation to the investigation by attempting to hide evidence from law enforcement investigators.  Garcia-Ramirez’s plea took place in the District of Puerto Rico before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce J. McGiverin.  At sentencing, Garcia-Ramirez faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Beltre-Beltre and Garcia-Ramirez are the 14th and 15th defendants to plead guilty in this case.

The charges are the result of Operation Island Express, an ongoing, nationally-coordinated investigation led by the ICE-HSI Chicago Office and USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices in Chicago, in coordination with the ICE-HSI San Juan Office.  The Illinois Secretary of State Police; Elgin, Ill., Police Department; Seymour, Ind., Police Department; and Indiana State Police provided substantial assistance.  The ICE-HSI Assistant Attaché office in the Dominican Republic, and International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2) as well as various ICE, USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices around the country provided invaluable assistance.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys James S. Yoon, Hope S. Olds, Sarah Chang, Christina Giffin and Courtney B. Schaefer of the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, with the assistance of Trial Attorney Jeannette Gunderson of the Justice Department 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, 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.htmlwww.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/identity_theft; and www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=186436,00.html.

12-1077
Criminal Division
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