Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New Jersey Woman Sentenced to 42 Months in Prison for Trafficking the Identities of Puerto Rican U.S. Citizens

WASHINGTON – A former resident of New Jersey was sentenced today to serve 42 months in prison for her 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.

Martina Montero-de-Ortiz, 52, formerly of Elizabeth, N.J., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gustavo A. Gelpí in the District of Puerto Rico.  In addition to Montero-de-Ortiz’s prison term, Judge Gelpí ordered her to forfeit $33,250 in illegal proceeds and ordered the removal of Montero-de-Ortiz from the United States to the Dominican Republic after the completion of her sentence.

 On Aug. 15, 2012, Montero-de-Ortiz pleaded guilty in Puerto Rico to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for financial gain.

Montero-de-Ortiz 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.

Montero-de-Ortiz admitted that she trafficked the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents in New Jersey.  Montero-de-Ortiz is the 11th defendant to be sentenced in this case.
Another defendant involved in the scheme, Vidal Contreras-Galicia, 30, formerly of Ft. Wayne, Ind., pleaded guilty yesterday before U.S. District Judge Gelpi to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud.  As part of his plea agreement, Contreras-Galicia agreed to forfeit $3,000 in illegal proceeds as well as deportation to Mexico after serving his sentence.  According to court documents, Contreras-Galicia admitted that he trafficked the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents in Indiana and that he used a Puerto Rican identity himself to commit financial fraud.  At sentencing, Contreras-Galicia faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
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.

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