- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

Federal agents have arrested a fourth employee of the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in connection with a wide-ranging conspiracy to commit visa fraud.
Miguel Partida, 41, a visa adjudicator and naturalized U.S. citizen, was taken into custody Wednesday by State Department Diplomatic Security Service agents after being named on a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Laredo, Texas.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Adriana Arce-Flores set bond for Mr. Partida at $150,000. A preliminary hearing is set for Monday.
Mr. Partida is believed by authorities to have collected nearly $30,000 in the scheme, which involved three other consulate employees already in custody. Mr. Partida reportedly told investigators he was coerced by the three others.
Last week, Diplomatic Security Service agents arrested three Mexican citizens employed at the consulate on similar visa-conspiracy charges. Sergio Genaro Ochoa-Alarcon, 31; Benjamin Antonio Ayala-Morales, 34; and Ramon Alberto Torres-Galvan, 34, are in federal custody pending indictments in the ongoing investigation.
At a court hearing yesterday in Laredo, the three waived their right to a probable-cause hearing and were ordered held by Judge Arce-Flores on $300,000 bond. They worked as visa clerks at the busy Nuevo Laredo consulate, which issued more than 100,000 visas last year.
Prosecutors have declined to say how many visas may have been distributed in the scheme.
According to criminal complaints filed against the three in U.S. District Court in Laredo, two provided visas to prospective applicants for payment, generally about $1,500, and a third was paid by a visa broker for improperly arranging visas.
Those who obtained visas to enter the United States did not go through required interviews and background checks.
Diplomatic Security Service agents initiated the investigation last year to determine whether consulate employees were involved in a scheme to provide visas and border-crossing cards in exchange for cash. The agents inspected documents and cellular-phone records at the U.S. Consulate Office and interviewed more than two dozen Mexican citizens working at the facility.
Several people reportedly have admitted their involvement in the scheme.
Law enforcement authorities said the scheme is believed to have been directed by a Mexican national, Margarita Martinez Ramirez, who served as the broker and made arrangements for the visas to be sold. They said she sometimes met potential clients at Church's Chicken restaurant in Laredo.
Texas state police filed a criminal complaint against Mrs. Martinez Ramirez last year, charging her with failing to deliver a visa after accepting a $1,900 payment. Authorities have been unable to locate her.

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