Fifty individuals were charged in an indictment unsealed yesterday in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, with conspiracy to commit identification fraud in connection with their alleged roles in a scheme to traffic the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents.
The one-count indictment was returned by a federal grand jury on December 29, 2011. Defendants were arrested yesterday in multiple districts throughout the United States and Puerto Rico and will make initial appearances in federal court in the districts in which they were arrested. At this time, it is not clear if the individuals will be transported to Puerto Rico to face charges, or will remain in the district in which they were arrested.
According to the indictment, from at least April 2009 to December 2011, alleged conspirators in 15 states and Puerto Rico trafficked the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens, corresponding Social Security cards, Puerto Rico birth certificates and other identification documents to undocumented aliens and others residing in the United States.
Although Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, those born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. U.S. federal law is applied to Puerto Rico, such as federal taxes and federal criminal laws, yet Puerto Ricans are not permitted to vote in U.S. federal elections. Current actions are being taken by the Government of Puerto Rico to establish itself apart from the United States, but as it stands today Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, thereby opening themselves up to this kind of identity theft.
The indictment alleges that conspirators located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, (Savarona suppliers) obtained the Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Conspirators in various locations throughout the United States (identity brokers) solicited customers. The identity brokers allegedly sold Social Security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set. The indictment alleges that identity brokers ordered the identity documents from Savarona suppliers, on behalf of the customers, by making coded telephone calls, including using terms such as “shirts,” “uniforms” or “clothes,” to refer to identity documents. Specifically, the brokers asked for “skirts” for female customers and “pants” for male customers in various “sizes,” which referred to the ages of the identities sought by the customers.
According to the indictment, payment was made through a money transfer service. Savarona suppliers allegedly retrieved the payments from the money transfer service and then sent the identity documents to the brokers using express, priority or regular U.S. mail. The indictment alleges that various conspirators sent or received money and mail parcels.
As alleged in the indictment, the customers generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and to obtain additional identification documents, such as legitimate state driver’s licenses.
If convicted, each individual faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, as well as forfeiture. To view the Department of Justice press release on this case, please click here.
The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in Federal Criminal Defense matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.