News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California

Sacramento Man Pleads Guilty to Using Deceased Child's Identity to Apply for U.S. Passport

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Rafael Ortega Zarate, 69, a Mexican national living in Sacramento, pleaded guilty today to one count of aggravated identity theft, a crime he committed while making a false statement in an application for a United States passport, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nirav Desai is prosecuting the case.

According to court documents, Zarate was illegally living in the United States and was previously deported from the United States in 1962 and 1963. In October 2012, Zarate presented an application for a U.S. passport to a passport acceptance officer in Sacramento. In the application, he falsely represented, among other things, that his name was “Ernesto Zarate Ortega” and that he was a United States citizen by birth. As proof of his purported United States citizenship and identity, Zarate presented a California birth certificate and a California identification card in the name of Ernesto Ortega. Ernesto Ortega was a real person born in California in 1949 who died in 1953 when he was three years old.

Also according to court documents, in 2009, Zarate used Ernesto Ortega’s identity to apply for and improperly receive Social Security benefits in the form of Supplemental Security Income. In his application, he falsely stated, among other things, that his name was “Ernesto Ortega,” that he was a United States citizen by birth, and that he had never lived outside of the United States. Zarate received approximately $33,700 in benefits from December 2009 through May 2013. In the plea agreement, Zarate has agreed to pay restitution in that amount to the Social Security Administration.

“The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to investigate allegations of crime related to passport and visa fraud and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice,” said Dean Shear, Special Agent in Charge, San Francisco Field Office U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service. “Individuals who use false and stolen identities not only commit criminal acts, they can potentially be a threat to our national security.”
David Butler, Special Agent-in-Charge, Los Angeles Field Division of the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General, stated: “The Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General remains committed to vigorously investigating instances of identity theft and false impersonation, in particular those that involve SSA’s benefit programs.”

Zarate is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on January 15, 2014, at 9:00 a.m. The offense of aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison, one year of supervised release and restitution. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.



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