THREE ILLEGAL ALIENS SENTENCED IN FRAUDULENT INDENTIFICATION DOCUMENT RING
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN – U.S. Attorney Donald A. Davis announced today the outcome of the sentencing proceedings for three Mexican nationals who were convicted after a jury trial in January on charges of conspiracy to produce and traffic in fraudulent identification documents and possession of document-making implements. Chief U.S. District Judge Paul L. Maloney imposed prison sentences upon Defendants Eddie Castilla-Lugo (37), Israel Armendariz-Becerra (41), and Miguel Merlos-Gonzalez (32), with Castilla-Lugo receiving 63 months in the Federal Bureau of prisons, Armendariz-Becerra receiving 24 months, and Merlos-Gonzalez receiving 21 months. Each of the defendants resided in or near Wichita, Kansas, before moving to Grand Rapids during the spring and early summer of 2010, and each is a previously-deported illegal alien.
The case is the latest in a series of successful investigations and prosecutions conducted by agents of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI, formerly known as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, that have targeted the fraudulent identification-document trade. Federal law-enforcement continues to target this activity because the availability of high-quality fraudulent identification documents contributes significantly to the problem of illegal immigration. Such documents enable previously-deported aliens to remain undiscovered, to establish alternate identities, and to blend into society.
“Authentic and legitimately possessed and utilized identity documents are critical components to many of the systems designed to protect the public, ensure compliance with our laws, and enhance our security. The manufacturing and selling of fraudulent identity documents like those in this case poses a very real threat,” said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Michigan and Ohio. “Combating this threat by shutting down the criminal organizations involved in these types of schemes remains a high priority for HSI.”
In this case, evidence established that the document operation was financed by criminal elements from inside Mexico, who not only provided the expensive equipment used in producing highquality documents that included U.S. Permanent Resident cards (“Green Cards” ), social-security cards, and driver licenses from states such as Michigan, Illinois, and North Carolina, but who also dictated which areas within the Greater Grand Rapids area a particular document crew could operate, and received monthly payments from their franchisees. The three defendants in this case were apparently involved in fraudulent document activity in Wichita, Kansas, and traveled to Michigan to join the ongoing fraud operation shortly before HSI agents executed a Federal search warrant for the apartment where the document lab was set up, and where the defendants were staying. Unknown to the new arrivals, the document operation they joined had been under investigation for several months, and was about to be shut down by HSI.
The case resulted in a total of five convictions. Defendants Jose Reyes-Gonzalez (34) and Eduardo Lopez-Sosa (22), who are also citizens of Mexico and illegal aliens, pled guilty to the conspiracy charge pursuant to plea-agreements with the Justice Department in late 2010. In February and March 2011, Chief Judge Maloney sentenced Reyes-Gonzalez and Lopez-Sosa to serve 33 months and 15 months, respectively, in Federal prison. In sentencing the several defendants, Chief Judge Maloney commented upon the serious nature of document fraud crimes, observing that offenses such as those committed by the defendants have national security implications because of the important role genuine identification documents play in maintaining the internal security of the United States.
Accordingly, stated the Chief Judge, such offenses “must receive a firm response from the Federal courts.” Chief Judge Maloney also warned each defendant not to return unlawfully to the United States after they finish serving their sentences and are deported.
The case was investigated by agents of HSI and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagen W. Frank.