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Press Release

Operation False Haven: Convicted Child Molester Sentenced for Using a Fraudulently Obtained Naturalization Certificate and Civilly Denaturalized

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

WILMINGTON, N.C. – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina announced that today in federal court, Billy Efrain Penaranda, age 39, a naturalized citizen of the United States, born in Bolivia and residing in Pitt County, was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Richard E. Myers II to two years’ probation following a guilty plea to using a fraudulently obtained naturalization certificate. Moreover, Penaranda was civilly denaturalized as a U.S. citizen.

According to court records, on June 20, 2019, Penaranda knowingly used a fraudulently obtained naturalization certificate to apply for a North Carolina driver’s license.  On August 31, 2009, Penaranda fraudulently acquired U.S. citizenship and a certificate of naturalization by making materially false statements under oath on his naturalization application.  In response to the question “Have you ever committed a crime or offense for which you were not arrested?” he answered “No.”

On November 14, 2012, in the Superior Court of North Carolina in Craven County, Penaranda was convicted of indecent liberties with a child.  He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of between 16 and 20 months and ordered to register as a sex offender.  According to the indictment to which he pled guilty, Penaranda committed the crime between January 1, 2008, and December 29, 2009.  The victim was 12 years old.   Prior to his arrest, Penaranda provided police with a written confession in which he admitted to molesting and photographing the naked victim multiple times over a nearly two-year period.  Penaranda was not arrested until after he naturalized, thus immigration officials were unaware of his crime.   

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement. Agents with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations and Homeland Security Investigations, assigned to the Document Benefit Fraud Task Force, investigated the case as part of Operation False Haven (OFH), in conjunction with the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation.  OFH is an initiative designed to purpose-built to identify and prosecute child molesters and other egregious felons who fraudulently obtained U.S. citizenship.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich prosecuted the case.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No. 5:20-cr-00445-M-1. 

Updated March 11, 2022