- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2011

A federal grand jury in Richmond has indicted 22 members of a suspected fraudulent-document-trafficking ring based in Mexico with cells in 19 U.S. cities and 11 states that reportedly sold high-quality phony identification cards to illegal immigrants and used beatings, kidnappings and murder in dealing with competitors and disciplining its own members.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said the sophisticated operation, uncovered as part of a law enforcement initiative known as Operation Phalanx, was managed in this country by Israel Cruz Millan, 28, of Raleigh, N.C., who oversaw the production of false identification cards that sold on the street for $150 to $200 each — which netted his Mexican bosses more than $1 million from January 2008 to November 2010.

According to the 12-count indictment, Mr. Cruz Millan placed a manager in each U.S. city, all of whom supervised a number of “runners” who distributed business cards advertising the organization’s services and helped facilitate transactions with customers. The cost of the phony documents varied depending on location and included counterfeit Resident Alien and Social Security cards.

The indictment said each cell maintained detailed sales records and divided the proceeds among the runner, the cell manager and the upper-level managers in Mexico.

“Document fraud doesn’t just involve paperwork,” Mr. Morton said. “The business of document fraud, which can be ugly and involve violence and the use of deadly weapons, warrants the attention of Homeland Security Investigations. Fraudulent documents give people the appearance of lawful status and provide them a ticket to access and opportunities to which they are not entitled.”

ICE Director John T. Morton (right) (Associated Press)
ICE Director John T. Morton (right) (Associated Press) more >

The indictment said Mr. Cruz Millan’s organization sought to drive away competitors by posing as customers and attacking them when they arrived to make a sale. It said the attacks included binding the victims’ hands, feet and mouth; repeatedly beating them; and threatening them with death if they continued to sell the false documents in the area.

The victims allegedly were left bound at the scene of the attacks. The indictment said at least one victim died from the beatings.

U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride in Virginia said the indictment “portrays a deadly criminal organization that uses brutal violence to eliminate rivals, protect its turf and enforce discipline against its own members.” He said investigators who brought the charges had exposed “the brutality behind this document cartel, and dismantled the organization.”

Mr. Cruz Millan is accused of tightly controlling the organization’s activities, keeping in regular contact with cell managers about inventory, biweekly sales reports and competition. The indictment said members who violated internal rules within the operation were subject to discipline, including shaving eyebrows, being made to wear weights, beatings and other violent acts.

Twenty-eight members of the organization were arrested in November on charges of conspiracy to produce and transfer false identification documents and commit money-laundering. Five have since pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce and transfer false identification documents. On Thursday, 22 of the 28 also were charged with racketeering conspiracy.

Additional charges named:

• Christian Martinez-Arellano, 27, of Richmond, and Erik Martinez-Ortiz, 21, of Virginia Beach for assaulting two rival document vendors in Richmond in June 2009. They are accused of placing the barrel of a semiautomatic handgun in a victim’s mouth and warning him about selling false identification documents in Richmond.

• Edy Oliverez-Jiminez, 24, of Virginia Beach for murder, kidnapping and assault of a rival document vendor in July in Little Rock, Ark. He and others were accused of binding the victim’s hands, feet, mouth and eyes with duct tape and repeatedly beating him, which ultimately caused his death. According to the indictment, Mr. Oliverez-Jiminez then relocated to Virginia and established a new cell in Norfolk and Virginia Beach.