DMV worker, 5 others charged in sophisticated identity theft scheme
Defendants allegedly used Puerto Rican birth certificates to create new identities
SANTA ANA, Calif. — A clerk at the California Department of Motor Vehicles office in El Monte and five others have been indicted on federal charges for allegedly selling legitimate birth certificates and Social Security numbers obtained from Puerto Rico to individuals willing to pay thousands of dollars to obtain new identities.
DMV clerk Tracey Lynette Jones, 33, of Long Beach, surrendered to federal authorities Monday and was arraigned Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court. Jones, who entered a not guilty plea, was released on a $25,000 bond and ordered to stand trial Nov. 24 before U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney.
Jones and the other five defendants were named in a four-count indictment returned Sept. 30 by a federal grand jury. The indictment charges all six defendants with conspiring to produce identification documents. Several of the defendants, including Jones, are charged with various identity theft offenses.
“Identity theft is a serious crime that undermines the economic fabric of our society and causes considerable harm to the individual victims,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This identity theft scheme was particularly insidious because it both victimized the individuals whose identities were stolen and required the active participation of a government official. The fact that a DMV official abused her position of authority in committing this crime is egregious since such conduct can undermine the public’s confidence in a government institution entrusted with our personal information.”
Four of the remaining defendants were arrested last month by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and investigators with the DMV’s Investigations division. They are:
- Wilfredo Montero, 36, of Los Angeles;
- Adolfo Maria Cruz, 47, of Corona;
- Roberto Ruiz, 35, of Tustin; and
- Jose Cruz, 49, of Corona.
Three of the four defendants arrested in September have been freed on bond. Cruz remains in custody.
The sixth defendant charged in the case, Jorge “Diablo” Perez, aka Pedro Josue Figueroa-Marquez, 33, originally from Mexico, remains at large and is being sought by authorities.
According to the indictment, the conspiracy was allegedly spearheaded by Montero and catered to individuals willing to pay as much as $5,000 for new identities that relied on genuine birth certificates and Social Security numbers obtained from Puerto Rico residents. Investigators are working to identify the source of the documents obtained from Puerto Rico.
The case, which is the result of a three-year undercover probe conducted by HSI with substantial assistant from the DMV’s Investigations division, revealed that many of the ring’s customers were previously deported felons. Federal prosecutors have filed charges against three people believed to be customers of the identity theft ring, and authorities are seeking to take those individuals into custody.
“If anyone had any doubt about why identity theft is a serious public safety threat, this investigation should be a wake-up call,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “Based on our evidence, this ring’s clients had good reason to want to obscure their pasts. And for a price, the defendants were allegedly willing to oblige. Our probe is ongoing and we’re aggressively pursuing all those involved.”
An affidavit in support of criminal complaints that were previously filed in the case describes a July 2012 meeting between Montero and an HSI undercover special agent posing as prospective client. After the undercover investigator indicated he wanted to purchase identity documents, Montero led him to his garage where he pulled out a Puerto Rican birth certificate and matching Social Security card which were concealed inside a boxing glove.
After obtaining identity documents for buyers, the defendants, for an additional fee, allegedly helped their clients use the documents to apply for California driver’s licenses or California identification cards under the assumed identities. The indictment alleges defendant Jones altered records in the DMV’s electronic databases to make it appear the applicants had passed required exams to obtain a driver’s license when, in fact, they had not.
“DMV does not tolerate any type of illegal conduct among employees who tarnish the image of the thousands of other DMV employees who work hard to ensure every applicant meets all licensing requirements,” said Jean Shiomoto, director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
If convicted in the identity theft conspiracy, the six defendants named in the indictment would face a statutory maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison.