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July 26, 2010

OPERATION FAKE I.D. TARGETS SALE OF COUNTERFEIT IDENTIFICATION CARDS AT
NORTH HOUSTON AREA FLEA MARKETS

(HOUSTON, Texas) –  Operation Fake I. D. nets 13 charged by indictment for allegedly conspiring to posses, obtain, accept and receive forged, counterfeited, altered and falsely made immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, permits, border crossing cards, alien registration cards and other documents prescribed by statute or regulation for entry into or as evidence of authorized stay or employment in the United States, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno and  Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Fienberg announced today.

“The sale of counterfeit identification documents is a matter of national security,” said U. S. Attorney José Angel Moreno. “These types of enforcements actions are necessary to secure our borders and protect our citizens.”  

Two indictments charging a total of 20 persons returned under seal by a Houston grand jury on Thursday, July 22, 2010, are the result of a 18-month investigation dubbed “Operation Fake I. D.” conducted by the HSI Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, which includes special agents of the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and officers of the Houston Police Department. “Operation Fake I. D.” focused its investigative efforts upon persons allegedly involved in the trafficking of counterfeit government identity documents, including permanent resident cards, at the Sunny, La Tia Pancha and Cintas flea markets in North Houston.

Warrants issued following the return of the indictments were executed by investigating agents on beginning on Friday, July 23, 2010, through the weekend including arrests on Saturday, July 24, 2010, at the Sunny, La Tia Pancha and Cintasflea markets. As of today, a total of 13 defendants have been arrested. Warrants remain outstanding for those charged but as yet not in custody. All defendants in custody are expected to appear before U. S. Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy later today when the issue of bond is expected to be raised. The indictments have been ordered unsealed.

“The HSI-led Document and Benefit Task Force provides a comprehensive approach in targeting criminal organizations and individuals involved in the illicit manufacturing and selling of fraudulent documents,” said Michael Fienberg, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Houston. “HSI and its agency partners are committed to stopping this threat that undermines our nation’s security.”

The first of the two indictments charges a total of 17 defendants. All 17 are accused of being involved in a conspiracy to solicit customers at the various flea markets in north Houston to purchase counterfeit Permanent Resident cards and other identifying documents beginning in or about February 2009 through June 2010. The customers were allegedly photographed and asked to provide other information necessary to complete the counterfeit immigrant and nonimmigrant government documents. Once the photograph and information was obtained, the information was communicated via telephone, text messaging or courier to other co-conspirators operating a counterfeit government document production mill which produced the counterfeit documents which were then sold to customers.  A conviction for this conspiracy charge carries a maximum punishment of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

The remaining nine counts of the indictment charge individual defendants separately for alleged specific instances of fraud and misuse of visas – knowingly possessing a forged, counterfeited, altered or falsely made form I-551 or Permanent Resident card -- between July 26, 2009 through July 10, 2010. A conviction for any one of these offenses carries a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. 

Assistant United States Attorney F. Andino Reynal is prosecuting this case.

Two defendants charged in the second indictment and charged in all three counts -- conspiracy to solicit customers at the various flea markets in north Houston to purchase counterfeit Permanent Resident cards and other identifying documents beginning in or about January 2009 through July 2010 and two substantive counts for alleged specific instances of fraud and misuse of visas in April and July 2010 – were also arrested on Saturday.  Both defendants face the same statutory penalties as the defendants in the first indictment upon conviction and are also in federal custody pending a detention hearing.

Special Assistant United States Attorney James E. Manning is prosecuting this second case.

The defendants charged in the 10 count indictment are (“*” denotes in federal custody):

Name Age Nationality
Israel Arroyo-Mora 37 Mexico
El Tio”, true name Salvador Cobos-Lima 59 Mexico
Valentin Romero-Cortez a/k/a “Carlos” 50 Mexico
Claudia Perez-Luna a/k/a Claudia Del Villar 53 Mexico
Juan Carlos Morales-Garcia a/k/a/ “Toto” 38 Mexico
Erika Cortez-Lopez 35 Mexico
Leonardo LNU    
“Gordo”, true name Dagoberto Cacares 33 Honduras
”Baina”, true name Carlos Joel Rosario-Solis 21 Dominican Republic
Raul Martin Puga 41 Mexico
Zeferino Romero-Cortez 35 Mexico
FLU LNU (star tattoos on elbows), true name Valentin Leonardo Romero-Cortez 29 Mexico
Jairo Bravo Luna 23 U.S. Citizen
Suzanne Marie Ortegon 23 U.S. Citizen
Cesar Llaguno-Romero 23 Mexico
Eulalio David Velazquez-Garduno 23 Mexico
Rodolfo Heredia Monroy  34 Mexico
     

The defendants named and charged in the second indictment are:

Name Age Nationality
David LNU (1), true name Oscar David Cervantes-Munoz 26 Mexico
David LNU (2), true name Plutarco Cervantes-Munoz 33 Mexico
David LNU (3)    

 An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

 

 

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