- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) — Eight persons are charged with conspiring to obtain bogus Ohio identification cards for illegal immigrants in Virginia and elsewhere, a federal prosecutor said yesterday.

U.S. Attorney John L. Brownlee said the fraudulent IDs apparently were intended to help the illegal immigrants obtain employment and avoid deportation.

“There is no terrorism at all,” Mr. Brownlee said. “This is an immigration case.”

Four defendants are from Ohio: two employees of a state Bureau of Motor Vehicles office in Columbus and two interpreters who served as brokers for the conspiracy, according to an indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Harrisonburg.

Three defendants from Virginia recruited illegals who were looking to purchase Puerto Rican birth certificates and matching Social Security cards, which were provided by defendant Luis M. Rosado-Rodriguez, 29, of Ponce, Puerto Rico, according to the indictment.

The recruiters sold the documents to the illegal immigrants and made arrangements for their travel to Ohio to obtain the illegal state IDs, the indictment says.

Mr. Brownlee said Ohio was chosen because Virginia has tightened procedures for obtaining IDs at its state-operated Department of Motor Vehicles offices since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Ohio’s departments, in contrast, are franchises that can be obtained by individual state contractors.

The Ohio BMV in this case was managed by Nekeia Mack-Fuller, 29, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio. She was charged along with a clerk, Michelle Eckerman, 27, of Canal Winchester, Ohio.

Authorities identified the interpreters as Christina Dawn Cheatham, 23, and Jose Antonio Gutierrez-Ramirez, 34, both of Columbus. Those two also operated a staging area and provided information and transportation to the illegal immigrants, according to the indictment.

The recruiters were Edwin Roberto Mendez, 32; Jairo Gomez, 32; and a man identified only as Juan, age and last name unknown, all of Harrisonburg.

Mr. Brownlee said Mr. Rosado-Rodriguez is thought to be in Puerto Rico, and authorities were searching for him. They also were attempting to identify and locate Juan. The others are in custody or have dates to appear in U.S. District Court.

The offenses occurred from January 2004 through last month. Mr. Brownlee said the investigation began after four Guatemalan nationals possessing Puerto Rican documents and Ohio IDs were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in August. They said they had purchased the Puerto Rican documents from Mr. Mendez.

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