Identity Trafficker in Puerto Rico Sentenced to 81 Months in Prison
A leader of a Puerto Rican identity trafficking organization was sentenced today to serve 81 months in prison.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Rosa E. Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas S. Winkowski of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Chief Postal Inspector Guy J. Cottrell of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Director Bill A. Miller of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) and Chief Richard Weber of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.
Enrique Rogelio Mendez-Solis aka Rogelio Quero-Mendez, Roberto Marquez-Prada, 40, a Mexican national formerly of Seymour, Indiana, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Juan M. Pérez-Giménez in the District of Puerto Rico for his leading role in trafficking the identities and corresponding identity documents of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens. Judge Pérez-Giménez also ordered the defendant to serve three years of supervised release and to forfeit $422,793 in illegal proceeds. Mendez-Solis illegally entered the United States and the government will seek his deportation following the service of his prison sentence. On Dec. 3, 2013, Mendez-Solis pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit human smuggling for financial gain and three counts of aggravated identity theft.
According to court documents, individuals located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Other conspirators located in various cities throughout the United States solicited customers and sold Social Security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set. The identity brokers in the United States ordered the identity documents from the document suppliers in Savarona on behalf of their customers by making coded telephone calls. The conspirators were charged with using text messages, money transfer services and express priority or regular U.S. mail to complete their illicit transactions.
Court documents allege that some of the conspirators assumed a Puerto Rican identity themselves and used that identity in connection with the trafficking operation. Their customers generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and to obtain additional identification documents, such as legitimate state driver’s licenses. Some customers obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport. According to court documents, the organization trafficked at least 1,500 identities.
Various identity brokers were operating in Rockford, DeKalb and Aurora, Illinois; Seymour, Columbus and Indianapolis, Indiana; Hartford, Connecticut; Clewiston, Florida; Lilburn and Norcross, Georgia; Salisbury, Maryland; Columbus and Fairfield, Ohio; Dorchester, Lawrence, Salem and Worcester, Massachusetts; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Nebraska City, Nebraska; Elizabeth, New Jersey; Burlington and Hickory, North Carolina; Hazelton and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Houston, Texas; Abingdon and Albertville, Alabama; and Providence, Rhode Island.
To date, 53 individuals have been charged for their roles in the identity trafficking scheme. All 49 arrested defendants have pleaded guilty and 46 defendants have been sentenced, including:
• Jorge Luis “Daniel” Mendez, 38, a Dominican national formerly of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, sentenced to 75 months in prison on April 28, 2014, followed by 3 years of supervised release;
• Daniel Aparicio-Lara, 30, a Mexican national formerly of Burlington, North Carolina sentenced to 65 months in prison on Dec. 18, 2012, followed by 3 years of supervised release;
• Rafael Joaquin Beltre-Beltre, 36, a Dominican national formerly of Caguas, Puerto Rico, sentenced to 63 months in prison on Sept. 4, 2012, followed by deportation;
• Wilfredo Blanco-Diaz, 41, a Dominican national formerly of Caguas, Puerto Rico, sentenced to 61 months in prison on March 11, 2014, followed by deportation;
• Jose Sergio Garcia-Ramirez, 39, a Mexican national formerly of Rockford, Illinois, sentenced to 54 months in prison on Nov. 26, 2012, followed by deportation;
• Moises Lara-Ceballos, 37, a Mexican national formerly of Seymour, Indiana, sentenced to 54 months in prison on Jan. 21, 2014, followed by deportation; and
• Wilson Antonio Hernandez-Fernandez, 40, a Dominican national formerly of Caguas, Puerto Rico, sentenced to 48 months in prison on Feb. 4, 2014, followed by 3 years of supervised release.
The charges are the result of Operation Island Express, a nationally coordinated investigation led by the ICE Homeland Security Investigations’ (ICE-HSI) Chicago Office and USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices in Chicago, in coordination with the ICE-HSI San Juan Office and the DSS Resident Office in Puerto Rico. The Illinois Secretary of State Police; Elgin, Illinois Police Department; Seymour, Indiana Police Department and Indiana State Police provided substantial assistance. The ICE-HSI Assistant Attaché office in the Dominican Republic and International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2) as well as various ICE, USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices around the country provided invaluable support.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys James S. Yoon, Hope S. Olds, Courtney B. Schaefer, and Christina Giffin of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, with the assistance of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and the support of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Northern District of Illinois, Southern District of Indiana, District of Connecticut, District of Massachusetts, District of Nebraska, Middle District of North Carolina, Southern District of Ohio, Middle District of Pennsylvania, District of Rhode Island, Southern District of Texas and Western District of Virginia provided substantial assistance.
Potential victims and the public may obtain information about the case at: www.justice.gov/criminal/vns/caseup/beltrerj.html. Anyone who believes their identity may have been compromised in relation to this investigation may contact the ICE toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) and its online tip form at www.ice.gov/tipline. Anyone who may have information about particular crimes in this case should also report them to the ICE tip line or website.
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 www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/pubs/ID_theft/idtheft.html; www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html; www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/identity_theft; and www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=186436,00.html.