Two Foreign Nationals Plead Guilty in Puerto Rican Identity Trafficking Conspiracy
A Dominican national and a Mexican national each pleaded guilty today in connection with their roles in trafficking the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Rosa E. Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico, Acting Director John Sandweg of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Chief Postal Inspector Guy J. Cottrell of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Director Gregory B. Starr 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.
Jorge Luis “Daniel” Mendez, 37, formerly of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Enrique Rogelio Mendez-Solis, 37, formerly of Seymour, Ind., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Juan M. Pérez-Giménez in the District of Puerto Rico to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for financial gain and three counts of aggravated identity theft. They face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for conspiracy to commit identification fraud, 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for financial gain, and two years in prison for each aggravated identity theft count when they are sentenced on April 28, 2014.
Both defendants were charged in a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico on March 22, 2012. To date, 53 individuals have been charged for their roles in the identity trafficking scheme, 49 defendants have been arrested, and 49 have pleaded guilty.
Court documents allege that 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 allegedly solicited customers and sold Social Security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set. The superseding indictment alleges that these 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 are 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 allegedly obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport.
According to court documents, various identity brokers were operating in Rockford, DeKalb and Aurora, Ill.; Seymour, Columbus and Indianapolis, Ind.; Hartford, Conn.; Clewiston, Fla.; Lilburn and Norcross, Ga.; Salisbury, Md.; Columbus and Fairfield, Ohio; Dorchester, Lawrence, Salem and Worcester, Mass.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nebraska City, Neb.; Elizabeth, N.J.; Burlington and Hickory, N.C.; Hazelton and Philadelphia, Penn.; Houston; Abingdon and Albertville, Ala.; and Providence, R.I.
Mendez admitted that he operated as a Savarona supplier. Mendez-Solis admitted that he operated as an identity broker in the Seymour, Ind., area.
The charges are the result of Operation Island Express, an ongoing, 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, Ill., Police Department; Seymour, Ind., 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 it 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 .