News and Press Releases

five more indicted in $5 million conspiracy to provide thousands of identity documents to illegal aliens

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 26, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – David M. Ketchmark, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that four more St. Joseph, Mo., residents and a Minnesota man have been indicted by a federal grand jury for participating in a more than $5 million conspiracy that utilized the Missouri Department of Revenue license office in St. Joseph to provide more than 3,500 fraudulent identity documents to illegal aliens across the United States.

Christopher B. Escobar, 22, Shayna R. Vanvacter, 26, Melissa L. Scallions, 26, Jon L. Grippando, 24, all of St. Joseph, and Rafael Hernandez-Ortiz, also known as “Hugo,” 31, a citizen of Mexico who resides in Owatonna, Minn., were charged in a 45-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. The indictment was unsealed and made public today upon the arrests and initial court appearances of several defendants.

The superseding indictment also contains additional counts of unlawfully producing identification documents and aggravated identity theft against two co-defendants who were charged in the original indictment: Sherri E. Gutierrez, 45, of St. Joseph and Luis Adalberto Felipe-Lopez (identified in the original indictment as “Joel LNU”), 29, a citizen of Guatemala residing in Mt. Olive, N. Carolina. The superseding indictment also contains an additional charge of Social Security fraud against Gutierrez and additional charges against Felipe-Lopez of transporting illegal aliens and illegally reentering the United States after having been deported.

Seven co-defendants in the original indictment are charged with the same offenses in the superseding indictment: Deborah J. Flores, 46, of St. Joseph; Elder Enrique Ordonez-Chanas, also known as “Flaco,” 31, and Ranfe Adaias Hernandez-Flores, also known as “Miguel,” 23, both citizens of Guatemala residing in Carthage, Mo.; Brenda De La Cruz, 32, of San Antonio, Texas; Martin Alejandro Llanas-Rodriguez, 30, and Julio Cesar Llanas-Rodrigues, both citizens of Mexico residing in San Antonio, Texas; and Martin Lara-Rodriguez, 32, a citizen of Mexico residing in Chicago, Ill.

According to court documents, Martin and Julio Llanas-Rodriguez, Ordonez-Chanas, Hernandez-Flores, Bautista-Orozco, Felipe-Lopez, Hernandez-Ortiz, Lara-Rodriguez are unlawfully present in the United States. Martin Llanas-Rodriguez and Felipe-Lopez have both previously been deported.

The federal indictment alleges that all of the defendants participated in a conspiracy from November 2009 to Jan. 10, 2012, to transport illegal aliens, to unlawfully produce identification documents, to unlawfully transfer another person’s identification and to commit Social Security fraud.

In order to obtain a Missouri driver’s or non-driver’s license, applicants are required to provide proof of U.S. citizenship, which may be shown by a certified birth certificate. Applicants must also provide proof of their Social Security number and proof of a Missouri residential address. Conspirators allegedly provided illegal aliens with birth certificates and Social Security cards in the names of others and provided them with Missouri residential addresses.

The indictment alleges that illegal aliens would travel to St. Joseph from across the United States to obtain either a Missouri driver’s license or non-driver’s license by using the unlawfully obtained birth certificate and Social Security cards. The state licenses could then be used by the illegal aliens to remain unlawfully in the United States, to unlawfully obtain employment and for other unlawful purposes.

It is estimated that more than 3,500 licenses were issued to illegal aliens by the Department of Revenue license office in St. Joseph, according to the indictment. Illegal aliens each paid $1,500 to $1,600 to obtain documents and a license, the indictment says, totaling more than $5,250,000 in gross proceeds paid by illegal aliens to members of the conspiracy.

According to the indictment, conspirators (including Carthage residents Ordonez-Chanas and Hernandez-Flores, as well as Lara-Rodriguez in Chicago and Felipe-Lopez in North Carolina) recruited illegal aliens as customers for fraudulent identification documents and then directed the illegal aliens to travel to St. Joseph to receive the documents. Sometimes conspirators provided transportation to St. Joseph, the indictment says. Felipe-Lopez allegedly transported illegal aliens back and forth between North Carolina and Missouri, and Hernandez-Flores allegedly transported illegal aliens back and forth between Carthage and St. Joseph.

San Antonio residents Martin and Julio Llanas-Rodriguez and De La Cruz allegedly purchased state-issued birth certificates and Social Security cards, usually from Texas residents who were willing to sell their identification documents. They allegedly mailed these documents to either Ordonez-Chanas in Carthage or to the St. Joseph defendants, the indictment says. The documents were then given to the illegal aliens when they arrived in St. Joseph, and the St. Joseph defendants collected payment from the illegal aliens.

The St. Joseph defendants allegedly accompanied illegal aliens into the local license office under the guise of being translators in order to assist them with obtaining a state license that was in the name of another person. The St. Joseph defendants instructed and assisted the illegal aliens to practice memorizing the information on the birth certificates and Social Security cards, the indictment says, and to practice signing the name so that the signatures would be similar. They also helped the illegal aliens prepare for potential questions from the license office employees, according to the indictment.

Flores owns A to Z Auto Credit LLC, a used car dealership in St. Joseph. According to the indictment, she used the business bank account to transfer funds among conspirators and as a mailing address to receive some of the mailed documents.

In addition to the conspiracy, the federal indictment charges various defendants in six counts of transporting illegal aliens, nine counts of unlawfully producing identification documents, nine counts of unlawfully transferring another person’s identification, nine counts of Social Security fraud, 10 counts of aggravated identity theft and one count of illegally reentering the United States after having been deported. The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation, which would require the defendants to forfeit to the government any property obtained from the proceeds of the alleged offenses, including a money judgment of $5,250,000.

Ketchmark cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jess E. Michaelsen. It was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, the Buchanan County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the St. Joseph, Mo., Police Department, the Platte County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Missouri Department of Revenue Investigation Bureau, the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

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