A Dominican national was sentenced this week to 63 months in prison for his leading role in trafficking the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Rosa E. Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico; Director John Morton of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Chief Postal Inspector Guy J. Cottrell of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS); Gentry Smith, Acting Director of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS); and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Chief Richard Weber.
Rafael Joaquin Beltre-Beltre, 36, formerly of Caguas, Puerto Rico, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gustavo A. Gelpí, in the District of Puerto Rico. In addition to Beltre-Beltre’s prison term, Judge Gelpí ordered him to forfeit $424,793 in illegal proceeds and ordered the removal of Beltre-Beltre from the United States to the Dominican Republic after the completion of his sentence. On Sept. 4, 2012, Beltre-Beltre pleaded guilty in Puerto Rico to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for financial gain and one count of international money laundering.
Beltre-Beltre was charged in a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico on March 22, 2012. To date, a total of 53 individuals have been charged for their roles in the identity trafficking scheme, and 25 defendants have pleaded guilty.
Court documents allege that individuals located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico (Savarona suppliers), obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Other conspirators located in various cities throughout the United States (identity brokers) allegedly solicited customers and sold Social Security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set. The superseding indictment alleges that identity brokers ordered the identity documents from Savarona suppliers, on behalf of the customers, by making coded telephone calls. The conspirators are charged with using text messages, money transfer services and express, priority or regular U.S. mail to complete their illicit transactions.
Court documents allege that some of the conspirators assumed a Puerto Rican identity themselves and used that identity in connection with the trafficking operation. Their customers allegedly 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. Some customers allegedly obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport.
According to court documents, various identity brokers were operating in Rockford, Ill.; DeKalb, Ill.; Aurora, Ill.; Seymour, Ind.; Columbus, Ind.; Indianapolis; Hartford, Conn.; Clewiston, Fla.; Lilburn, Ga.; Norcross, Ga.; Salisbury, Md.; Columbus, Ohio; Fairfield, Ohio; Dorchester, Mass.; Lawrence, Mass.; Salem, Mass.; Worcester, Mass.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nebraska City, Neb.; Elizabeth, N.J.; Burlington, N.C.; Hickory, N.C.; Hazelton, Pa.; Philadelphia; Houston; Abingdon, Va.; Albertville, Ala.; and Providence, R.I.
Beltre-Beltre admitted that he operated as a Savarona supplier and was a leader and organizer in the conspiracy. He also admitted that he and his co-conspirators sold personal identifying information pertaining to real Puerto Rican U.S. citizens, including minors, and that he knew some of the identities would be used to commit tax fraud and some would be used to fraudulently apply for U.S. passports. According to court documents, in June 2011, an unauthorized alien in Arlington, Va., applied for a U.S. passport using legitimate Puerto Rico identity documents that had been supplied by Beltre-Beltre. Law enforcement agents uncovered the fraudulent application and prevented the issuance of the U.S. passport.
On Jan. 11, 2012, Beltre-Beltre was arrested and found to be in possession of over 100 legitimate identity documents in other people’s names, in addition to four legitimate but blank Puerto Rico birth certificates. Beltre-Beltre admitted that at the time of his arrest he possessed a firearm with an obliterated serial number in relation to his identity trafficking and alien smuggling operation. Beltre-Beltre is the 12th defendant to be sentenced in this case.
The charges are the result of Operation Island Express, an ongoing, nationally-coordinated investigation led by the ICE-HSI Chicago Office and USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices in Chicago, in coordination with the ICE-HSI San Juan Office and the DSS Resident Office in Puerto Rico. The Illinois Secretary of State Police; Elgin, Ill., Police Department; Seymour, Ind., Police Department; and Indiana State Police provided substantial assistance. The ICE-HSI Assistant Attaché office in the Dominican Republic and International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2) as well as various ICE, USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI offices around the country provided invaluable assistance.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys James S. Yoon, Hope S. Olds, Courtney B. Schaefer and Christina Giffin of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, with the assistance of Acting Assistant Deputy Chief Jeannette Gunderson of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, and the support of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Northern District of Illinois, Southern District of Indiana, District of Connecticut, District of Massachusetts, District of Nebraska, Middle District of North Carolina, Southern District of Ohio, District of Rhode Island, Southern District of Texas and Western District of Virginia provided substantial assistance.
Potential victims and the public may obtain information about the case at: www.justice.gov/criminal/vns/caseup/beltrerj.html. Anyone who believes their identity may have been compromised in relation to this investigation may contact the ICE toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) and its online tip form at www.ice.gov/tipline. Anyone who may have information about particular crimes in this case should also report it to the ICE tip line or website.
Anyone who believes that they have been a victim of identity theft, or wants information about preventing identity theft, may obtain helpful information and complaint forms on various government websites including the Federal Trade Commission ID Theft Website, www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Additional resources regarding identity theft can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/pubs/ID_theft/idtheft.html; www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html; www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/identity_theft; and www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=186436,00.html.