- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Federal authorities yesterday arrested two clerks at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles branch in Tysons Corner and four associates in a suspected $1 million scheme to produce and sell authentic Virginia driver’s licenses to unqualified applicants during the past five years.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said more than 1,000 licenses were sold for fees ranging from $800 to $1,600 each to buyers who could not otherwise obtain legitimate licenses. He said many of the buyers cut in lines at the busy Tysons Corner DMV office, with one of the four associates directing the applicants to the two clerks who participated in the scheme.

“This case is part of an ongoing effort by the Department of Justice to expose and stop identification document fraud,” Mr. McNulty said at a press conference yesterday in which the arrests were announced. “Maintaining the integrity of state licenses is a critical part of our efforts to deter terrorism and other serious crimes in the wake of September 11.

“We have to take identification fraud seriously, especially on a massive scale like this, since concealing one’s identity has been and will continue to be a part of the terrorists’ playbook,” he said. “We don’t know who got all these licenses, which are real but went to people who didn’t deserve them.”

Mr. McNulty said there was no evidence that the ring is related to terrorism.

The two clerks, Consuelo Onate-Banzon, 46, of Lorton, and Rony Razon, 31, of Vienna, and three of their associates, Mr. Razon’s mother, Alicia Razon, 58, and Alfredo Aparicio, 35, both of Alexandria, and Irma Valdes, 31, of Silver Spring, have been charged with conspiring to produce Virginia driver’s licenses by fraud. If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The fourth associate, Daniel Ramos, 29, of Silver Spring has been charged with misusing Social Security account numbers to obtain DMV benefits and, if convicted, faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The four associates were not employed by the DMV.

“This case is particularly troubling,” Mr. McNulty said. “Two leading members of the ring were DMV employees who profited handsomely from their activities. Sadly, Virginia has developed a significant reputation for being a place where identity fraud can be perpetrated.”

Peter Gadiel, a board member with the 9/11 Families for a Secure America Foundation, was angered but not surprised that the Virginia licenses had been sold. His son, James, a Washington and Lee University graduate, was killed during the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

This past winter, Mr. Gadiel successfully lobbied lawmakers in Richmond for legislation to bar illegal aliens from obtaining Virginia driver’s licenses. The law goes into effect Jan. 1.

“It goes to show we have to be enforcing our immigration laws better,” Mr. Gadiel said. “If we enforced the laws against people who hire illegal aliens in the first place, we wouldn’t have these problems.”

Mr. McNulty said Mrs. Onate-Banzon and Mr. Razon used their positions as clerks to produce driver’s licenses for immigrants located and brought to them by Mrs. Razon, Mr. Aparicio, Mrs. Valdes and Mr. Ramos.

In many cases, he said, the immigrants posed as Virginia residents when, in fact, they lived in another state. In other instances, the immigrants could not pass the required tests, could not adequately prove their identities, or used false names or Social Security account numbers, he said.

Some of the applicants needed the illegally obtained Virginia licenses because they had immigration problems or criminal records.

“The licenses Consuelo Onate-Banzon and Rony Razon produced through this scheme were authentic Virginia licenses,” Mr. McNulty said. “They produced these licenses by falsifying DMV records to make it appear that the immigrants who received them were Virginians who had recently moved to Virginia from another state.

“For each license produced, Consuelo Onate-Banzon and Rony Razon would falsely record that the immigrant applicant had surrendered a valid driver’s license from another state, knowing that the applicants surrendered no license at all and never lived in the states Consuelo Onate-Banzon and Rony Razon recorded,” he said.

The government’s year-long investigation showed that the conspirators began issuing the licenses in 1998, according to Mr. McNulty.

Pam Goheen, spokeswoman for the DMV, declined to offer specifics about the case, but said the DMV had initiated the investigation. She said the licenses have since been canceled.

“It was a DMV investigation and we asked federal authorities for assistance,” she said. “They are taking care of it at this time, and communication should come from them.”

Mrs. Onate-Banzon, a lawful permanent resident, Mr. Razon, whose legal residency is in question, and Mrs. Razon, also a lawful permanent resident, were born in the Philippines.

Mr. Aparicio, a naturalized U.S. citizen, is from Mexico; Mrs. Valdes, whose tourist visa has expired, is from Guatemala. Mr. Ramos’ country of origin and immigration status were unknown yesterday.

The case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from agents of the Social Security Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorney John T. Morton is prosecuting the case for the government.

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