Zapata resident admits to defrauding public assistance programs and community members
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas
LAREDO, Texas – A 45-year-old woman has entered a guilty plea to bank fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.
Mirza Lydia Rodriguez admitted to defrauding Falcon International Bank in a scheme that lasted five years.
In April 2020, law enforcement began investigating Rodriguez after receiving several reports of identity theft from Zapata residents. Authorities discovered Rodriguez claimed to be a tax preparer or could assist others with unemployment benefits. Multiple victims sought assistance from Rodriguez based those representations. Rodriguez collected and stored the victims’ personal identifying information (PII) at her residence.
In October 2021, authorities conducted a search and seized tax returns, W2s, bank records, birth certificates, Social Security cards and credit cards, all in other individuals’ names. Authorities also seized multiple spiral notebooks that contained approximately 1000 pages of PII.
Law enforcement obtained copies of Rodriguez’s bank records and discovered she received direct deposits from tax refunds, COVID-19 stimulus checks and Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) unemployment benefits. All deposits were meant for other individuals to include the victims who reported the theft.
During her plea, Rodriguez admitted to submitting a fraudulent application to Laredo Housing Authority (LHA) for public assistance in May 2015. She used her banking information and a relative’s PII on the application without permission. The application was approved, and Falcon International Bank, which maintains LHA’s accounts, began disbursing housing assistance payments to Rodriguez.
The bank disbursed 57 housing and 43 utility assistance payments totaling $32,715.
Additionally, Rodriguez received 16 deposits addressed to three individuals totaling $30,505. The victims admitted they used Rodriguez’s services for assistance with unemployment benefits and never received any money. The TWC issued letters to the victims indicating they owed thousands of dollars.
Part of Rodriguez’s guilty plea includes restitution payments to LHA and TWC.
U.S. District Judge Diana Saldaña accepted the plea and will sentence Rodriguez at a later date. At that time, she faces up to 30 years in federal prison.
Rodriguez has been and will remain in custody pending sentencing.
The FBI, Texas Department of Public Safety-Texas Rangers, Zapata County Sheriff’s Office and Housing and Urban Development-Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, TWC and the LHA.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Bajew is prosecuting the case.
Updated October 6, 2023