Criminal Organization Indicted And Arrested For Narcotics, Aggravated Identity Theft And Money Laundering Charges
Defendants face a narcotics and money laundering forfeiture allegation of three million dollars
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – On March 6, 2017, a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned a superseding indictment against twelve defendants charged with various federal offenses, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. The Drug Enforcement Administration is in charge of the investigation with the collaboration of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Puerto Rico Police Department.
This criminal organization led by Alex Baez-Espinal participated in different illegal schemes which are detailed in the superseding indictment. Defendants Baez-Espinal, Norman Guzmán-Ramos, Kelvin Hernández and Bryan Santiago are charged in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Defendant Kelvin Hernández is facing one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Baez-Espinal, Hernández, and Guzmán-Ramos are facing charges for use of a communication facility in the commission of felonies under the Controlled Substances Act. That is, using a cellular telephone, in facilitating the commission of a felony under Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841 and 846, offenses set forth in the superseding indictment.
Defendants Baez-Espinal and Hernández were the leaders of the Drug Trafficking Organization and the Cellphone and Rental Car Fraud Schemes, described below. Baez-Espinal and Hernández obtained personal individual information (including but not limited to Social Security Numbers and Dates of Birth) of unsuspecting victims from defendants Melton Pinilla and Luis Roberto Dávila. During the conspiracy, after receiving the victim’s personal information, Baez-Espinal and Hernández checked each victim’s personal credit rating. If the victim possessed a good credit rating, Baez-Espinal and Hernández then contacted credit card companies utilizing the fraudulently obtained personal information and applied for credit cards in the victim’s name. These credit cards were then sent via the mail to Puerto Rico by the credit card companies.
According to the indictment, Baez-Espinal and Hernández would provide the fraudulently obtained personal information to Luis Roberto Rivera-Ortiz, who created fraudulent Puerto Rican driver’s licenses in the victim’s names with the photos of the “runners” or “jockeys” and other members of the conspiracy. Ultimo Carrera-Rosario also made fraudulent documents such as fraudulent social security cards and fake utility bills in the victims’ names.
Defendants Bryan Santiago-Rivera, José Vásquez-Rodríguez, Leidy Baez-Espinal and Veronica Sierra-Pabón, acted as runners or jockeys for the organization. The different fraud schemes charged are as follows:
Mail fraud conspiracy:
According to the indictment, defendants Baez-Espinal, Hernández, Santiago-Rivera, Michael Alicea, Luis Roberto Rivera-Ortiz, Ultimo Carrera, Luis Roberto Dávila, José Vázquez, Kathya Andino-Aragonés, Leidy Bez-Espinal, and Verónica Sierra-Pabón utilized the U.S. mails to obtain fraudulent credit cards in victims’ names and then use those fraudulent credit cards, along with other fraudulent documents, to purchase goods and services.
Cellphone fraud conspiracy:
During the conspiracy, Baez-Espinal, Hernández and Alicea (after obtaining fraudulent credit cards and driver’s licenses and/or social security and utility bills), paid runners or jockeys to make purchases of cellphones at retail outlets in Puerto Rico. The runners or jockeys, utilizing the fraudulent identifications, would then purchase as many cellphones as allowed by the retail outlet using the victim’s information. The runners or jockeys would make a cash down payment on the cellphone(s), and finance the remaining portion of the cost of the cellphone on the victim’s credit.
The leaders of the conspiracy, Baez-Espinal and Hernández then sold the cellphones via the internet through AMBE Group Inc., to individuals in the United States, Italy, Peru, Canada, and Mexico. From on or about 2012 until 2016, the conspiracy made approximately $3,000,000.00 from the sale of the fraudulently obtained cellphones and other electronic devices.
Rental car fraud scheme:
Baez-Espinal and Hernández also used the fraudulent credit cards and driver’s license and/or social security and utility bills to rent vehicles at car rental outlets. They paid runners or jockeys to rent automobiles from car rental outlets in Puerto Rico using the victim’s identification. The runners or jockeys made these rentals knowing that the runner and/or members of the conspiracy were not going to return the rental vehicle to the car rental outlet. Baez-Espinal and Hernández and other members of the conspiracy would then utilize the fraudulently obtained vehicle, before selling it.
In Counts 6 through 9, Alex Baez-Espinal, Hernández and Leidy Baez-Espinal are charged with wire fraud, for transmitting illegal moneys in interstate and foreign commerce by means of wire communications. In Count 10 members of the conspiracy are charged with conspiracy to commit access device fraud. The defendants listed in Count 10, used other persons’ Social Security Number and Date of Birth to open and utilize fraudulent credit cards affecting interstate and foreign commerce. Counts 11, 12 and 13 detail the aggravated identity theft these defendants committed including but not limited to eight victims. Counts 14, 15 and 16 are money laundering counts derived from specified unlawful activities, which were the different schemes explained above.
“These individuals were involved in different criminal schemes in which they violated several federal statutes, defrauded and stole the identity of many individuals simply to enrich themselves quickly and illegally,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “The US Attorney’s Office will work with our law enforcement partners to vigorously pursue and hold accountable those who perpetrate these schemes to enrich themselves at the expense of honest people.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart J. Zander is in charge of the prosecution of the case, under the supervision of Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Díaz-Rex, Deputy Chief of the International Narcotics Unit. If convicted the defendants face a minimum sentence of 10 years up to life in prison in Counts 1-2. If convicted of the aggravated identity theft charges, the defendants face a minimum sentence of two years in addition to the sentence imposed for the underlying felony. Indictments contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. Defendants are presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The case was investigated by agents from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) that investigates South American-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for the movement of multi-kilogram quantities of narcotics using the Caribbean as a transshipment point for further distribution to the United States. The initiative is composed of DEA, HSI, FBI, US Coast Guard, US Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, and PRPD's Joint Forces for Rapid Action.