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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Department of Justice

United States Attorney William C. Killian Eastern District of Tennessee


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - A federal grand jury in Chattanooga, Tenn., returned a two count indictment on March 8, 2011, against Manolo Mendez Escobar, a/k/a Johnny Ayala Garcia, 27, of Guatemala; Pascual Ramirez-Ramirez,35, of Guatemala; Juan Antonio Hernandez, 43, of Cleveland, Tenn.; James Darrell Ward, 48, of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Francisco Baltazar Pedro, 45, of Monterey. Tenn.; and Amilcar Lerdo, of Gainesville, Ga., for conspiring to unlawfully produce Tennessee drivers licenses. Escobar was also charged with falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen. Escobar, Hernandez, Ramirez and Baltazar have been arrested. A new trial date for all of the defendants has not yet been set.

The indictment alleges that between July 2009 and January 2011, the individuals listed above agreed with one another to transport ineligible applicants to the drivers license testing site on Bonny Oaks Drive, Chattanooga, Tenn. The applicants presented counterfeit documents to Ward, a Department of Motor Vehicles employee, who in exchange for cash, unlawfully produced Tennessee drivers licenses.

If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum term of 15 years in prison, $250,000 fine and up to three years of supervised release.

"I want to congratulate the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Criminal Investigation Division (THP-CID), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), U.S. Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Athens City Police Department for their collaborative efforts in this investigation and resulting indictment, "said U.S. Attorney Bill Killian, Eastern District of Tennessee. "Due to the potential harm, we take these cases very seriously."

"Document and benefit fraud poses a significant vulnerability that must not go unchallenged," said Raymond R. Parmer, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New Orleans. "This indictment should send the clear message that HSI and its law enforcement partners will identify and dismantle those criminal organizations that perpetrate document fraud. We are committed to ensuring that our nation's security is not breached in this manner."

This indictment is the result of an investigation by the ICE, THP-CID, U.S. Secret Service, FBI and TBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney James T. Brooks will represent the United States.

Members of the public are reminded that an indictment constitutes only charges and that every person is presumed innocent until their guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

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