- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 2005

The ringleader of a passport scheme who recruited women to sell their children’s identities so aliens could obtain fraudulent passports to enter the United States was sentenced yesterday in federal court in Virginia to five years in prison.

Belkis Diaz, 32, a notary public in Woodbridge, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris after her guilty plea in April to making false statements in a passport application.

“This case is a new twist in the dark world of crime against children and identity theft,” said U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty in Virginia, whose office prosecuted Diaz. “Because of greed and drugs, the true identities of these children have been stolen.”

Mr. McNulty identified Diaz as the organizer and leader of the large-scale, passport-fraud ring that included participants in the District, Virginia and New York. He said she recruited at least a dozen women to sell their children’s identities, which were used to make false statements in passport applications so foreign nationals could obtain fraudulent passports to enter the country illegally.

Mr. McNulty said that, beginning in October 2003, Diaz “willfully and knowingly” made false statements in applications to obtain the passports, including the submission of photographs of children she knew were not those identified in the documents.

Mr. McNulty said Diaz targeted drug-dependent women and their children, paying them about $300 for each passport application. He said she also paid some of the women $150 to recruit other women willing to sell their children’s identities. Mr. McNulty said Diaz was paid about $6,000 by the illegal aliens for each fraudulent passport.

During the sentencing hearing, the court found that Diaz’ scheme included using her daughter to sign one of the fraudulent documents.

The court also found that Diaz abused her position of trust as a notary when she used her seal to validate fraudulent documents used in the scheme.

Elizabeth Trites, who heads the Diplomatic Security Service’s D.C. field office, described the U.S. passport as “the most sought-after travel document in the world.”

“This case is especially significant because it involved children and other vulnerable victims,” she said.

Mrs. Trites said the work of the U. S. Attorney’s Office in Virginia and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were “major factors” in dismantling the scheme.

State Department officials are looking for a suspected accomplice in scheme, identified as Lorena Maria Portillo, 37, also of Woodbridge.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Gillis, who so far has won 10 convictions in connection with the Virginia-based passport scheme.

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