- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Somewhere in Mexico, Pedro Castorena-Ibarra is hiding. If Mexican President Vicente Fox wants to show Congress he respects U.S. law, he will ensure Mr. Castorena is found and extradited to the United States.

Last week, a federal grand jury in Denver indicted Mr. Castorena for masterminding one of the largest criminal counterfeit organizations ever assembled on U.S. soil, all from his redoubt in Mexico. In January, when federal authorities raided the Aurora, Colo., apartment of Castorena associate Francisco Javier Miranda-Espinosa and a nearby storage unit, they found several hundred fake identity documents with authentic-looking seals and holograms, as well as an array of sophisticated counterfeiting machinery. “This criminal organization represents one of the largest and most sophisticated fraud rings ever uncovered,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigator Marcy Forman said last week. A former member of Mr. Castorena’s organization who worked as a deep-cover informant was crucial in gathering the evidence, the Department of Homeland Security said.

The sizeable Aurora operation was just the tip of the iceberg for Mr. Castorena’s organization. As federal authorities detailed last week, Mr. Castorena had franchises in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, four medium-sized cities in the northwest and southeast and “other locations throughout the United States.” Since 2000, the investigation that nabbed Mr. Miranda-Espinosa has yielded 50 arrests, 20 computerized document-forging labs, 21 computers and more than $100,000 in cash. The organization has employed potentially hundreds of counterfeiters and traffickers and has distributed untold millions of fraudulent identity documents to illegal aliens over the years. Syndicates like these provide cover for criminal illegal aliens, terrorists and others who would harm the United States.

This isn’t Mr. Castorena’s first brush with the law; he has been a fugitive for more than 10 years. Texas authorities first targeted him in 1994 for similar counterfeiting offenses. Back then, a family operation involving Mr. Castorena’s two brothers, Alfonso and Francisco Javier Castorena-Ibarra, drew the attention of Texas authorities when an investigation identified the three as the leaders of a counterfeit ID and social-security card ring. The brothers Castorena and 14 other codefendants were charged with manufacturing and distributing counterfeit alien registration cards and Social Security cards. Alfonso and Francisco were caught in Los Angeles. After serving short prison sentences, they were deported to Mexico. But Mr. Castorena evaded arrest by fleeing to Mexico.

Mr. Castorena is a big fish in the cross-border underworld. Mexican authorities will be feeling the pressure to hand him over.

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