Four individuals were sentenced this week for their respective roles in trafficking the identities and corresponding identity documents of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Rosa E. Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico made the announcement. The sentencings took place in front of U.S. District Judge Gustavo A. Gelpí in the District of Puerto Rico.
Domingo Pablo Gutierrez, 52, a Guatemalan national formerly of Albertville, Ala., was sentenced today to serve 30 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. Gutierrez agreed to forfeit $40,000 in proceeds and to be removed from the United States after the completion of his sentence. On Aug. 22, 2013, Gutierrez pleaded guilty in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce J. McGiverin of the District of Puerto Rico to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit human smuggling for financial gain.
On Jan. 21, 2014, Moises Lara-Ceballos, 38, a Mexican national formerly of Seymour, Ind., was sentenced to serve 54 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. Lara-Ceballos agreed to forfeit $422,793 in proceeds and to be removed from the United States after the completion of his sentence. On Sept. 20, 2013, Lara-Ceballos pleaded guilty in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Marcos E. López to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, and one count of illegal reentry after deportation.
Juan Quero-Mendez, 28, a Mexican national formerly of Lilburn, Ga., was also sentenced on Jan. 21, 2014, to serve 36 months in prison and three years of supervised release. The court ordered the defendant to forfeit $17,180 in proceeds and to be removed from the United States after the completion of his sentence. On Sept. 20, 2013, Quero-Mendez pleaded guilty in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille L. Vélez-Rive of the District of Puerto Rico to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit human smuggling for financial gain.
Adonis Ramirez-Segura, 54, a Dominican national and a legal permanent resident of Columbus, Ohio, was sentenced on Jan. 21, 2014, to serve 22 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. On Sept. 20, 2013, Ramirez-Segura pleaded guilty in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille L. Vélez-Rive to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and one count of Social Security fraud.
The four defendants were charged in a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico on March 22, 2012. To date, 53 individuals have been charged for their roles in the identity trafficking scheme. All 49 arrested defendants have pleaded guilty and 36 defendants have been sentenced.
Court documents allege that individuals located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Other conspirators located in various cities throughout the United States 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 these identity brokers in the United States ordered the identity documents from the document suppliers in Savarona on behalf of their 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 of the conspirators assumed a Puerto Rican identity themselves and used that identity in connection with the trafficking operation. Their customers 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, DeKalb and Aurora, Ill.; Seymour, Columbus and Indianapolis, Ind.; Hartford, Conn.; Clewiston, Fla.; Lilburn and Norcross, Ga.; Salisbury, Md.; Columbus and Fairfield, Ohio; Dorchester, Lawrence, Salem and Worcester, Mass.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nebraska City, Neb.; Elizabeth, N.J.; Burlington and Hickory, N.C.; Hazelton and Philadelphia, Pa.; Houston; Abingdon and Albertville, Ala.; and Providence, R.I.
According to court documents, Quero-Mendez was an identity broker who operated in Lilburn, Ga.; Ramirez-Segura was an identity broker who operated in Columbus, Ohio; Lara-Ceballos was an identity broker who operated in Seymour, Ind.; and Gutierrez was an identity broker who operated in Albertville, Ala.
The charges are the result of Operation Island Express, an ongoing, nationally coordinated investigation led by the ICE Homeland Security Investigations’ (ICE-HSI) Chicago Office and USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices in Chicago, in coordination with the ICE-HSI San Juan Office and the DSS Resident Office in Puerto Rico. 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 support.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys James S. Yoon, Hope S. Olds, Courtney B. Schaefer and Christina Giffin of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, with the assistance 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, Middle District of Pennsylvania, District of Rhode Island, Southern District of Texas 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 them 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 .
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