A Long Beach woman was one of six people indicted on federal identity theft charges Monday after a three-year investigation revealed a plot to sell Puerto Rican birth certificates and other forged identity documents to people who were willing to pay thousands of dollars for California driver's licenses and identification cards.
Wilfredo Montero, 36, Adolfo Maria Cruz, 47, Roberto Ruiz, 35, Jose Cruz, 49, and Tracey Lynette Jones, 33, were named in an indictment released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) today as part of a scheme that provided illegal identification cards for money. All six, including Jorge “Diablo” Perez, a 33-year-old Mexico native who remains at large, have been charged with conspiracy to produce identification documents and other various identity theft offenses.
The nine-page indictment released by the DOJ detailed a ring that operated in Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange Counties from an unspecified date up to the end of August 2015. According to the indictment, the ring obtained genuine birth certificates from Puerto Rico and matching social security numbers belonging to United States citizens, selling them for upward of $5,000. It was not noted how many licenses or identification cards were processed by the ring. A call to the U.S. Attorney’s office heading up the case went unreturned at the time of publication.
The 33-year-old Jones who lives in Long Beach and works as a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) clerk in El Monte would then allegedly alter DMV records to allow for the issuance of California driver's licenses.
Jones was arraigned on Monday for allegedly manipulating information inside the DMV system to show that purchasers of the Puerto Rican birth certificates and social security numbers had passed California driver's license written and behind-the wheel exams, in return for payments ranging from $600 to $1,000 each.
Jones entered a not guilty plea and was released on $25,000 bond, but will stand trial November 24 before a United States district judge. If convicted of the identity theft conspiracy, Jones and the five others indicted could all face a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.
United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker said this particular act of identity theft, something she stated “undermines the economic fabric of our society," was particularly upsetting because it involved the cooperation of Jones, a government official.
“The fact that a DMV official abused her position of authority in committing this crime is egregious, since such conduct can undermine the public’s confidence in a government institution entrusted with our personal information,” Decker said in a statement.
The three-year investigation identified the 36-year-old Montero of Los Angeles as the ring leader of the scheme that was patronized by many previously deported felons to acquire new identities. Montero would initiate the process by obtaining the Puerto Rican birth certificates and U.S. social security numbers and later meet with potential buyers. For an additional fee, Montero or the others listed in the indictment would help their customers use the stolen documents to apply for California driver’s licenses or identification cards.
In two separate instances, the group helped undercover Homeland Security Investigators (HSI) obtain illegally obtained identification documents in exchange for money. In one instance, one of the defendants escorted the undercover agent to an East Riverside DMV and directed them to a particular clerk’s window to process their paperwork. The four other defendants were arrested last month ahead of Jones’ surrendering to federal authorities Monday.
Claude Arnold, the HSI agent in charge of the investigation, said the price these customers were willing to pay was an indicator that these people had good reason to want to cover up their past. He said the fact that many of the clients were felons shows that identify theft is a public safety threat and that the investigation should ‘serve as a wake-up call.'" He said the office’s probe is ongoing and they are aggressively pursuing those who were involved in purchasing information from the ring.
An official at the California DMV condemned the allegations that Jones conspired with the other defendants listed in the indictment, stating that the DMV does not not tolerate any type of illegal activity and that it would ensure that all applicants met all licensing requirements.