22 indicted in fake document ring
A federal grand jury in Richmond on Thursday indicted 22 people who allegedly ran a highly sophisticated trafficking group that made fraudulent documents and threatened -- and in one case killed -- rivals to their business.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil H. MacBride, whose office is prosecuting the case, described the defendants as a "fraudulent document cartel" that worked in 19 cities in 11 states, including Manassas, Richmond, Virginia Beach and Norfolk.
MacBride said the group was a "highly-structured business operation" whose purpose was to produce and sell thousands of fake driver's licenses, social security cards and other documents.
"They resorted to brutal, ruthless violence to support the criminal enterprise," MacBride said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. Authorities said a rival of the cartel's was beaten to death in one case in Little Rock, Ark., and two other men were lured to a house in Richmond where they were beaten.
The case was one of the biggest document fraud cases investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), authorities said.
"Document fraud doesn't just involve paperwork," ICE Director John Morton said in a written statement. "Fraudulent documents give people the appearance of lawful status and provide them a ticket to access and opportunities to which they are not entitled."
According to the 12-count indictment, Israel Cruz Millan - who was known as "El Muerto," which means "Death" in Spanish - of Raleigh, N.C., ran the organization in the U.S. He oversaw cells in nearly a dozen states that made high quality fake documents for illegal immigrants, the indictment said.
Millan allegedly put a manager in each city and each manager had "runners" who distributed business cards advertising the organization's services and helped do deals with customers. Their documents typically sold for between $150 and $200 each. Every cell in a city kept detailed sales records and divided the proceeds between the runner, the cell manager, and the upper level managers in Mexico, authorities said.
The group sent more than $1 million back to Mexico via wire transfers from January 2008 through November 2010, prosecutors said.
Millan ran the operation by enforcing strict discipline, authorities said, and his group allegedly drove competitors from their territory by posing as customers and attacking them when they arrived to make a sale. The attacks included binding the victims' hands, feet and mouth; repeatedly beating them; and threatening them with death if they continued to sell false documents, prosecutors alleged. The victims were left bound at the scene of the attack, according to the indictment.
MacBride said the beatings were allegedly used to "instill discipline in their organization and to instill fear in their rivals and to protect and extend their own turf."
In one case, Millan took a member of his group he believed had robbed him and arranged a conference call with other cell members. "He beat him on the conference call so other members could hear his scream," MacBride said in the interview. "That was exactly the point to say, 'I'm in charge. Nobody steals from me and this organization and this is what will happen to you.'"
Those involved were charged with conspiracy to produce and transfer false identification documents and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Some were also charged with racketeering conspiracy.
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