LOS ANGELES– As part of an ongoing undercover operation by Special Agents with the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), five fraudulent “documents mills” have been dismantled in recent months, and the investigation has now resulted in charges against 13 defendants who allegedly produced bogus identity documents.
Two of those defendants pleaded guilty today in United States District Court, each admitting that they sold undercover agents and confidential informants counterfeit Legal Permanent Resident cards (also known as “Green Cards”) and Social Security cards.
Today's guilty pleas are the latest convictions stemming from Operation “Buzzkill,” a CGIS investigation that shut down three fraudulent “document mills” near MacArthur Park in September. Two other document mills were closed in June.
Operation Buzzkill identified the manufacturers of bogus documents, as well as the sellers and “runners” who facilitate their sale. As a result of the investigation, over the past year, federal prosecutors have filed a series of cases that charge 13 defendants with participating in a black market for counterfeit documents.
The document mills allegedly produced a range of counterfeit identity documents, including driver's licenses, Social Security cards, United States passports, military identification cards, and highly regulated Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWICs), which enable unrestricted access to secure facilities within the ports and waterways of Los Angeles. TWICs are issued by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and enforced by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) for the purpose of restricting individuals with significant criminal records, non-United States citizens and members of terrorist organizations from gaining access to the sensitive infrastructures surrounding our nation's trade routes.
“Our national security and the integrity of many government programs rests on our ability to ascertain the true identity of individuals,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “False identification documents – even if they can be easily recognized by knowledgeable individuals – may allow unauthorized individuals to access controlled areas or to fraudulently receive benefits.”
“Proper identification and background checks of transportation workers are an important aspect of our multi-agency, multi-layered port security system,” said Rear Admiral Todd Sokalzuk, commander of the 11th Coast Guard District, which includes the Los Angeles/Long Beach region. “I applaud the skill and tenacity of our Coast Guard Investigative Service agents and partner agencies who shut down these counterfeit ID operations, and appreciate the help of a vigilant maritime community in keeping our ports safe and secure.”
The two defendants who pleaded guilty today are:
· Gustavo Nunez Garcia, also known as Gustavo Garcia Nunuz and “Octavio,” 34, of the Westlake District of Los Angeles, who pleaded guilty this morning before United States District Judge S. James Otero; and
· Miguel Rueda, also known as “El Pelon,” 44, of Paramount, who pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II.
Both defendants pleaded guilty to one count of production of false identity documents, a felony offense that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison. Garcia and Rueda are both scheduled to be sentenced on February 27.
Garcia was one of five Westlake District residents who were arrested by CGIS special agents on October 3. The other defendants arrested last month on charges of producing false identity documents are:
· Argenis Capistran, also known as “Pac Man,” 23, who allegedly worked with Garcia;
· Ivonne Adriana Sanchez Hernandez, 49, who allegedly helped produce counterfeit TWICs and Green Cards in relation to a Westlake business called Galaxi Photo;
· Fernando Hernandez, also known as “Tio,” 59, who was also associated with Galaxi Photo; and
· Jose Manuel Perez Cruz, 31, another person associated with Galaxi Photo, who allegedly sold and/or produced Green Cards, Social Security cards, driver's licenses from multiple states, United States Passports, United States military identification documents and TWICs.
These four defendants are currently scheduled to go on trial within the next month, but it is anticipated that all four trials will be delayed until next year.
An indictment or criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
Miguel Rueda was one of five people arrested in June in relation to a document mill run out of a Huntington Park storefront called Pacific Mill that produced Green Cards, Social Security cards, driver's licenses and TWICs. Previously in this case, Rueda's brother, Francisco Casteneda Rueda, 48; Alejandro Gabriel Rivera, 34; and Armando Guerrero Vasquez, 47, previously pleaded guilty. A fifth defendant charged in relation to this case – Laura Balcazar, 38, of Lynwood – is a fugitive who absconded after being freed on bond in this case.
Operation Buzzkill is a CGIS-led project designed to dismantle document mills producing counterfeit TWICs and other bogus credentials. In this investigation, CGIS has joined with the Transportation Security Administration, the Los Angeles Police Department, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, the State Department's Diplomatic Security Services, the United States Secret Service and LA CLEAR.
Earlier this year, as part of the investigation, a San Fernando Valley man whooperated a document millin Sylmar pleaded guilty to unlawful possession and production of authentication features and admitted being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. Brian Alan Dunmore, 51, of Porter Ranch, is scheduled to be sentenced on December 19, at which time he faces up to 25 years in federal prison.
A South Los Angeles resident arrested in February has agreed to plead guilty to producing false identity documents. Ricardo Gama-Diaz, also known as “Ricardo Rios-Gama” and “Coy,” 51 is expected to enter his plea in December.
A Monterey Park man who was charged in April has also pleaded guilty. Hector Hugo Aquino, 46, who admitted producing Social Security cards and Green Cards, was sentenced in September to serve four months in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release.
The criminal cases stemming from Operation Buzzkill are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Amanda M. Bettinelli of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section.
USAO – California, Central Updated November 18, 2016
Central District of California DOJ / 16-288 / November 18, 2016