Mexican National Faces 33-Count Indictment After Using U.S. Citizen's Identity For 30 Years
WICHITA, KAN. – A Mexican national who assumed the identity of a United States citizen more than 30 years ago has been indicted in federal court here for allegedly engaging in fraud to obtain Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security benefits, voting privileges, a driver’s license and even a U.S. passport, U. S. Attorney Barry Grissom said today.
The man, Ramon Perez-Rivera, 82, was arrested Tuesday by state and federal agents and is to appear before U. S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth G. Gale at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Also charged in the case is Perez-Rivera’s wife, Antonia Vargas-Ortega, also 82, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen. The defendants live in Wichita. One of the couple’s adult children, Antonia Vargas-Perez, 47, also has been charged with immigration-related offenses, Grissom said.
“Two years ago, we decided not to pursue charges in this case due the age and circumstances of the defendants,” Grissom said, “but they allegedly continued to engage in the same conduct that brought them to the attention of law enforcement officers in the first place.” He said the couple left his office “no choice” but to pursue and indictment.
“At some point, people have to take responsibility for their actions, whether they are 18 or 80,” Grissom said. “The scope of the allegations in this case is such that the interests of justice simply required action on our part.”
According to the indictment, Perez-Rivera started using the identity of a Phoenix, Ariz., man as early as 1979, and has continued to do so ever since. He even had the identity theft victim’s name changed to his own true name in California court proceedings, the indictment alleges.
After that, he used his true name – Ramon Perez-Rivera – but continued to claim the victim’s date of birth, place of birth, birth parents, and Social Security number as his own, using the information to obtain a U. S. passport, driver’s licenses, Medicaid benefits, food stamp benefits, and even registered to vote and voted, all the while claiming to be a U. S. citizen, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges 32 crimes against the defendant, as well as six counts against his wife, Ortega-Vargas. The indictment says the couple was married in their hometown of Romita, Buanajuato, Mexico, in 1961, 53 years ago. The indictment alleges that Ortega-Vargas jointly filed for federal food stamp benefits with Perez-Rivera knowing the application for benefits contained false information, including that Perez-Rivera was a United States citizen born in California. Food stamp benefits generally are not available to persons unlawfully present in the United States. The indictment alleges that Perez-Rivera has been fraudulently receiving Medicaid and food stamp benefits since 1999.
The indictment also charges Ortega-Vargas with aiding and abetting identity theft, making false statements to the Social Security Administration, and harboring defendant Perez-Rivera at their Wichita residence. She faces up to five years in prison on the false statement charges and a mandatory sentence of two years in prison on two aggravated identity theft counts.
Perez-Rivera faces similar penalties, although he faces maximum sentences of 10 years on the passport fraud and document fraud counts. He also faces the two-year mandatory sentences on five aggravated identity theft counts.
The case was investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Kansas Department of Revenue, the Kansas Department of Children and Families, and the United States Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson.
In all cases, defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. The indictments merely contain allegations of criminal conduct.