U.S. Department of Justice
Peter F. Neronha
United States Attorney
District of Rhode Island
December 12, 2012
Dominican National Pleads Guilty to Participating in Scheme to Traffic Identities of Puerto Rican U.S. Citizens
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Rafael Lara-Mejia, a/k/a. Gabriel Arenas, Martin Muniz Rosado, and Jeffrey Montanez Rivera, a Dominican national living in Providence, pleaded guilty in federal court in Providence to charges resulting from his participation in a scheme to steal and sell the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents, announced United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha and Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Rafael Lara-Mejia is one of fifty defendants named in a secret federal indictment returned on December 29, 2011, in Puerto Rico, and unsealed on January 11, 2012, charging the defendants for their alleged roles in the scheme.
Appearing before U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., Lara-Mejia pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and conspiracy to encourage an alien to reside in the United States for financial gain. Lara-Mejia faces a maximum sentence of up to twenty-five years in prison, followed by a term of supervised release of up to six years, and a fine of up to $500,000 when he is sentenced on March 5, 2013.
According to information contained in the indictment, it is alleged that conspirators located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, obtained the Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Conspirators in various locations throughout the United States (identity brokers) solicited customers, while identity brokers, like Lara-Mejia, sold Social Security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set.
According to the indictment, the Savarona suppliers generally requested that initial payments be sent by the identity brokers through a money transfer service. Once the identity brokers received the identity documents, they delivered the documents to the customers and obtained second payments. The brokers generally kept the second payments for themselves as profit. Some identity brokers allegedly assumed a Puerto Rican identity themselves and used that identity in connection with the trafficking operation.
It is alleged in the indictment that the customers generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens in order to, among other things, 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.
Appearing before Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. on Monday, Lara-Mejia admitted that beginning in at least April 2009 and continuing through January 2012, he and his co-conspirators sold personal identifying information such as the name, date of birth, and Social Security number of actual Puerto Rican U.S. citizens to between 25 and 99 undocumented aliens and others residing within the United States, including in Rhode Island. The defendant also admitted that he and his co-conspirators sold Puerto Rico government-issued issued birth certificates, Social Security cards, driver's licenses and voter registration cards that pertain to real Puerto Rican U.S. citizens.
Lara-Mejia, who has been detained since his arrest in Rhode Island on March 27, 2012, will be deported upon completion of his prison term.
The case was prosecuted by District of Rhode Island Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard B. Myrus, and Senior Trial Attorney James Yoon and Trial Attorney Sarah Chang of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
The matter was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service; and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation.
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 http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/pubs/ID_theft/idtheft.html; http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html ; http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/identity_theft; and http://www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=186436,00.html.