Two Foreign Nationals Plead Guilty to Trafficking the Identities of Puerto Rican U.S. Citizens
The guilty pleas were announced today by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Rosa E. Rodríguez-Vélez for the District of Puerto Rico; Director John Morton of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS); Scott P. Bultrowicz, Director of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS); and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Chief Richard Weber.
Obdulio Edu Burgos-Dominguez, 35, a Guatemalan national formerly of Seymour, Ind., pleaded guilty today in the District of Puerto Rico to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for profit. Jose Sergio Garcia-Ramirez, 37, a Mexican national formerly of Rockford, Ill., pleaded guilty in the District of Puerto Rico on July 17, 2012, to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Both pleas took place before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce J. McGiverin.
Burgos-Dominguez and Garcia-Ramirez were originally charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico on Mar. 22, 2012. To date, a total of 53 individuals have been charged for their roles in the identify trafficking scheme.
Court documents allege that individuals located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico (Savarona suppliers) obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Other conspirators located in various cities throughout the United States (identity brokers) 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 identity brokers ordered the identity documents from Savarona suppliers, on behalf of the customers, by making coded telephone calls. The conspirators used text mail, money transfer services and express, priority or regular U.S. mail to complete their illicit transactions.
Court documents allege that some identity brokers 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.
Burgos-Dominguez admitted that he operated as an identity broker in Seymour, Ind. Garcia-Ramirez admitted that he operated as an identity broker in Rockford, Ill.
According to court documents, various identity brokers were operating in Rockford; Seymour; Indianapolis; DeKalb, Ill.; Columbus, Ind.; Aurora, Ill.; Hartford, Conn.; Clewiston, Fla.; Lilburn and Norcross, Ga.; Salisbury, Md.; Columbus, Ohio; Fairfield, Ohio; Dorchester, Mass.; Lawrence, Mass.; Salem, Mass.; Worcester, Mass.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nebraska City, Neb.; Elizabeth, N.J.; Burlington, N.C.; Hickory, N.C.; Hazelton, Pa.; Philadelphia; Houston; Abingdon, Va.; Albertville, Ala.; and Providence, R.I.
Garcia-Ramirez and Burgos-Dominguez are the seventh and eighth defendants to plead guilty in this case.
At sentencing, scheduled for Nov. 30, 2012, Garcia-Ramirez faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for conspiracy to commit identification fraud and a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years in prison for aggravated identity theft. At sentencing, scheduled for Nov. 13, 2012, Burgos-Dominguez faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for conspiracy to commit identification fraud and 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for profit. Both defendants are also subject to a maximum fine of $250,000 for each charge.
The charges are the result of Operation Island Express, an ongoing, nationally-coordinated investigation led by the ICE-HSI Chicago Office and USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices in Chicago, in coordination with the ICE-HSI San Juan Office. 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 assistance.
The case is being prosecuted by 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. Attorneys’ Offices in the Northern District of Illinois, Southern District of Indiana, District of Connecticut, Western District of Virginia, Southern District of Ohio, and District of Nebraska 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 .