Couple Sentenced for Fake Facebook Claims to Provide Citizenship
McALLEN, Texas – A Mexican man and his McAllen wife have been ordered to federal prison for their respective roles in a mail and wire fraud conspiracy, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
Francisco Santiago Rodriguez-Nunez aka Marcos Rodriguez, Roberto Garcia-Rodriguez and Mario Ortiz, 34, of Mexico, and his wife, Beatriz Adriana Rodriguez, 40, of McAllen, pleaded guilty Nov. 27, 2018, to conspiracy to commit fraud. Rodriguez-Nunez also admitted to impersonating a federal agent.
Today, U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez imposed a total 75-month sentence for Rodriguez-Nunez, while Rodriguez was ordered to serve 41 months to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. Not a U.S. citizen, Rodriguez-Nunez is expected to face deportation proceedings following his sentence. The couple was further ordered to pay $174,010 in restitution. Rodriguez-Nunez and Rodriguez were also ordered to forfeit $68,900 and $74,200, respectively.
At the hearing, additional evidence was presented regarding the scheme indicating the identification and responses of at least 29 victims that claimed combined losses of more than $250,000. In handing down the sentence, the court noted the couple’s predatory actions by taking advantage of undocumented aliens, most of whom had no criminal history, that believed they were obtaining status legitimately by paying the defendants.
The court further acknowledged that several were merely looking for a means to obtain status to work, while others were paying exorbitant funds to have a method to be with their children. Judge Alvarez commented on the substantial financial hardship placed on most, if not all, of the victims. Some had taken loans they will never be able to pay back due to their limited income and resources.
Beginning in November 2015 and continuing through at least July 2018, Rodriguez-Nunez and Rodriguez created fraudulent postings on Facebook. They claimed to possess the ability to obtain, generate or provide individuals with immigration status, including citizenship, to remain in the United States or state driver’s licenses.
Numerous victims responding to the advertisement would communicate with Rodriguez-Nunez who claimed to be an employee or agent of the Social Security Administration, Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, Immigration and Naturalization Services, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or the Department of Homeland Security.
Victims provided the couple with money orders sent through the mail or wire transfers through Moneygram and Ace Cash Express. After receiving the money, Rodriguez-Nunez and Rodriguez would claim issues arose with the processing of the immigration status or driver’s license and they required additional money orders or wire transfers.
If victims refused to pay or stopped paying, Rodriguez-Nunez would personally impersonate federal officials threatening the victims with arrests and deportation. He also caused automated messages to be sent with similar threats. In addition, Rodriguez-Nunez would also send lewd pictures of genitalia to his victims to taunt them for their losses.
In total, authorities believe there were more than 60 victims in at least 10 different states affected by the couple’s conduct. For each of the 29 victims located, each had losses of at least $500. One victim suffered a loss of $34,000.
Rodriguez-Nunez and Rodriguez received at least $174,010 as a result of their scheme.
The couple will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Professional Responsibility conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Lopez Jr. is prosecuting the case.