El Paso federal agents arrest 9, including former customs inspector, on suspicion of fraud

By Adriana M. Chávez / El Paso Times
Posted: 05/10/2013 03:26:06 PM MDT


Federal agents arrested nine people this week, including a former U.S. Customs Service inspector convicted of bribery several years ago, in separate schemes involving fake immigration documents. (Ruben R. Ramirez / El Paso Times)

Federal agents arrested nine people this week, including a former U.S. Customs Service inspector convicted of bribery several years ago, in separate schemes involving fake immigration documents.

Eight people were arrested this week by Homeland Security Investigations officials for allegedly using fake documents to obtain employment at local businesses.

In an unrelated case, a ninth suspect, Federico Garcia Jr., was arrested for allegedly defrauding people seeking help to obtain their immigration status through his paralegal business by taking thousands of dollars from clients, then providing them with fake documents.

This week marks the second time Garcia, a former Customs inspector, has been arrested on federal charges. In 1997, Garcia, then 23, and another man were arrested for allegedly accepting $30,000 for turning a blind eye to vehicles loaded with cocaine.

Garcia was eventually convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison. He was released in 2006. Homeland Security officials said Garcia started a paralegal service about two years ago, offering to help people seeking U.S. citizenship or residency.

However, officials said the business was actually a scheme to bilk customers out of more than $100,000. Instead of the appropriate government-issued documents, Garcia allegedly gave customers fake documents and pocketed the proceeds.

The eight others arrested this week each face a charge of use and possession of fraudulent documents. Officials said those arrests were made as part of Operation Back Stop, which targets people in the U.S. illegally who try and obtain employment by using fake documents.

Leticia Zamarripa, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the arrests were examples of crimes that leave U.S. citizens "vulnerable."

"Dangerous people are using fraudulent documents to enter the country illegally and gain employment," Zamarripa said.

As an example, Zamarripa pointed to the December 2011 arrest of César Vega-Muñoz, also known as "El Chillin," who entered the U.S. illegally and used fake documents to become a cook at a Lower Valley Church's Chicken restaurant.

At the time, officials said Vega-Muñoz belonged to a kidnapping ring targeting Juárez-area business owners, and had escaped from a Cereso prison van during a violent ambush in December 2010.

Of those arrested this week, one had a previous conviction and had been deported from the U.S. as a result.

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