- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - Four employees of a southern New Mexico county clerk’s office are among seven people arrested in a fraud and identity-theft sting, authorities said Monday.

Three employees were taken into custody Monday at the county’s Clerk’s Office in Las Cruces, Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Department said. Another employee was arrested Friday in Anthony along with her husband and daughter.

Sheriff’s officials have launched a formal investigation into allegations of identity theft, forgery and fraud against the suspects, four of whom are document technicians at the clerk’s office.

The employees allegedly were collecting and cashing fraudulent tax-return checks in exchange for a kickback and/or a percentage of the check.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S. Treasury Department also are helping with the investigation.

The probe began last month after a woman at the clerk’s office reportedly was approached by another employee with an offer to make some extra money if she agreed to deposit tax-return checks into a personal bank account in exchange for cash and a portion of the check, authorities said.

The initial exchange was for three checks that totaled just under $12,000.

Authorities said Maria Ceniceros, 42, is accused of 113 counts of identity theft, forgery, fraud, conspiracy to commit forgery and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Her husband, 47-year-old Francisco Ceniceros, and 24-year-old daughter Denise Ceniceros each are accused of one count of conspiracy to commit fraud.

Armando Gutierrez Torrez also was arrested Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to commit identity theft, conspiracy to commit forgery and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Authorities said they believe Torrez delivered checks to Maria Ceniceros that were gleaned from identities used to create the fraudulent tax returns.

Sheriff’s officials said three other document technicians at the clerk’s office - Emilia Gomez, 51, Nadia Martinez, 38, and Reena Rodriguez, 32 - were arrested Monday and accused of knowingly notarizing falsified documents.

All three are being held on suspicion of conspiracy to commit forgery and violation of notary requirements.

It wasn’t immediately clear Monday if any of the seven suspects have lawyers yet.

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