- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Federal agents have closed up shop for what they say are eight members of an illegal alien fake-document ring that for years has sold out of an Adams Morgan apartment phony driver’s licenses, work papers and green cards to other illegals.

The ring — thought to be linked to an international organization run by the Castorena-Ibarra family whose kingpin was captured in Mexico this week — was raided early Tuesday as part of Operation Card Shark, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiative that began in 2002. The investigation has dismantled three other counterfeit document rings and arrested 195 persons in Adams Morgan.

“We’re in the process of developing evidence to go forward with our prosecutions,” James Spero, a special agent at ICE headquarters in Fairfax, said of Tuesday’s raid.

ICE agents, with federal arrest and search warrants in hand, awoke the eight men at 6 a.m. in a two-bedroom apartment at 3636 16th St. NW.

Inside, agents seized more than 100 fake documents, including green cards, Social Security cards and employment authorization cards. They also confiscated cell phones, numerous electronic devices, equipment used to make the documents and more than $14,000 in cash.

In ICE custody are: Luis Angel Mendez-Hernandez, 21; Andres Angel Vasquez-Soriano, 41; Eladio Espinoza-Cuevas, 50; Alberto Martin Vasquez-Soriano, 40; Juan Antonio Pacheco-Vasquez, 20; Julio Cesar Pacheco-Vasquez, 24; and Cesar Cuevas-Mendez, 24, all of Mexico.

Luis Vasquez, 33, also of Mexico, appeared before an immigration judge Tuesday, and faces criminal charges for immigration fraud. The others will be deported and face charges at a later date.

ICE officials said yesterday they did not know whether the men are related, but said the ring has ties to others in Detroit, Baltimore and Chicago.

“It’s basically an international organization that’s distributing these documents throughout the country, primarily on the East Coast and in the Midwest,” said one agent who declined to be identified. “Most of the money is sent back to Mexico. It’s much like the drug trade in that it’s such a profitable industry and as long as the demand is out there, the individuals will supply it.”

The apartment the authorities raided is along Columbia Road Northwest between 16th and 18th streets in Adams Morgan. It is a well-known spot among illegals looking for bogus documents.

Yesterday, agents displayed documents seized from prior raids. Blank paper driver’s licenses and work permits, many of them poorly made, lay sealed inside plastic folders labeled “Evidence.” A Polaroid camera, a blow-dryer and spray-on adhesive used to affix photos to the documents appeared worn from use. A typewriter used to print names on the documents was covered in ink.

Special agents with the agency’s Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force in the District have been tracking several organizations in Adams Morgan for years.

Street vendors along Columbia Road whisper the word “mica” — which is Spanish slang for “green card” — to passers-by and simulate holding a card by making a “C” with their thumb and forefinger to recruit customers.

Middle men, or runners, take the customer’s name, date of birth and a photo to a “mill,” usually a home or apartment in the D.C. suburbs, where a machinist manufactures the documents. The vendor and machinist may not know each other.

Customers on average pay between $80 and $120 to receive a Social Security card, green card, work permit or driver’s license within 30 minutes to two hours.

Though many are of poor quality, agents say, the documents pose threats because customers routinely supply false names and many employers can’t gauge the documents’ authenticity.

“It’s not only taking away potential jobs from U.S. citizens, which they’re doing if people hire them illegally, but these fraudulent documents hide whatever true intentions or motives they might have,” said Bruce Foucart, acting special agent-in-charge of ICE’s District-based Office of Investigations.

Of the 195 persons arrested through Operation Card Shark, all but one have been illegals and most are from Mexico, officials said.

Officials have prosecuted 60 illegals, seized about 10,000 documents with an estimated street value of more than $1 million and shut down seven document “mills.”

Charges associated with fake-document rings include aggravated identity theft, which carries a minimum of two years in prison, and creating fraudulent immigration documents, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, officials said.

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