On Feb. 24, a 12-count indictment charged 22 members of an allegedly highly organized and violent fraudulent document ring with racketeering conspiracy in addition to previous charges.
The investigation, named "Operation Phalanx," was conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations. According to the indictment, the fraudulent trafficking organization was based in Mexico with cells in 19 cities located in 11 different states. Three of the cells were based in Virginia.
"Document fraud doesn't just involve paperwork. The business of document fraud, which can be ugly and involve violence and the use of deadly weapons, warrants the attention of Homeland Security Investigations," said ICE Director John Morton. "Fraudulent documents give people the appearance of lawful status and provide them a ticket to access and opportunities to which they are not entitled."
The indictment said that Israel Cruz Millan, 28, of Raleigh, N.C. led the group's operations in the United States. He allegedly placed a manager in each city, who would supervise "runners." The "runners" distributed business cards advertising the organization's services and helped to facilitate the transactions of fraudulent documents. The cost of the documents was dependent on the location but counterfeit resident alien and social security cards typically sold for $150 to $200.
According to the indictment, members of the organization wired over $1 million to Mexico from the transactions from January 2008 to November 2010.
Additionally, the organization drove out competition from their territory by pretending to be customers and attacking their competitors when they arrived to make the sale. They would gag and bind their victims, beat them and threaten them with death if they continued to sell counterfeit identification documents in the area. At least one victim died from the beatings.
Twenty eight members of the organization, including the 22 charged with racketeering, were arrested on Nov. 18, 2010 and charged with conspiracy to produce and transfer false identification documents and conspiracy to commit money laundering. To date, five defendants arrested on the previous charges have pled guilty to conspiracy to produce and transfer false identification documents.
The conspiracy to produce and transfer false identification documents carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, while conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. The racketeering charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years to life in prison, depending on the racketeering activity.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Gill and Angela Miller, as well as Trial Attorney Addison Thompson of the Criminal Division's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section are prosecuting the case.