SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Fourteen individuals have been charged in three indictments in Puerto Rico with conspiracy to commit identification fraud, money laundering, aggravated identity theft and passport fraud in connection with their alleged roles in a scheme to traffic the identities and corresponding identity documents of Puerto Rican US citizens.
The multi-count indictments were returned by a federal grand jury on August 6, 2014. Since that time, five of the defendants have been found and arrested (four in Puerto Rico and one in Florida). They will be arraigned in federal court this week. Arrest warrants have been issued for the remaining defendants, who will make their initial appearances in federal court in the districts in which they are arrested.
According to the indictments, from at least July 2008 through April 2014, conspirators in the mainland United States and in Puerto Rico sold the identities and corresponding Social Security cards, Puerto Rico birth certificates and other identification documents of Puerto Rican US citizens to undocumented aliens and others residing in the mainland United States.
Specifically, the indictments allege that individuals located in the Caguas, Rio Piedras and San Juan areas of Puerto Rico (suppliers) obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents, and conspirators in various locations in the United States (identity brokers) solicited customers for those identities and documents. The identity brokers allegedly sold the identities and documents to the customers for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set of Social Security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates.
According to the indictment, the identity brokers ordered the identity documents from the suppliers by making coded telephone calls, including using terms such as “shirts,” “uniforms” or “clothes” to refer to identity documents. The suppliers generally requested that the identity brokers send payment for the documents through a money transfer service to names provided by the suppliers. The conspirators frequently confirmed payee names and addresses, money transfer control numbers and trafficked identities via text messaging. The suppliers allegedly retrieved the payments from the money transfer service and sent the identity documents to the brokers using express, priority or regular US Mail.
According to the indictments, once the identity brokers received the identity documents, they delivered the documents to the customers and obtained the remaining payment from the customers. The brokers generally kept the second payment for themselves as profit. Some identity brokers allegedly assumed a Puerto Rican identity themselves and used that identity in connection with the trafficking operation.
As alleged in the indictments, the customers generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican US citizens and obtain additional identification documents, such as state driver’s licenses. Some customers allegedly obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and others attempted to obtain US passports.
The charges are the result of Operation Island Express II, an ongoing, nationally-coordinated investigation.