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Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces
To combat the growing problems of document fraud and immigration benefits fraud, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State and other agencies created Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces. Based on a successful existing task force in the Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia area, additional task forces are located in Atlanta; Boston; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Los Angeles; New York; Newark, NJ; Philadelphia; and St. Paul, MN.

Led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the task forces build on existing partnerships to bring investigators together from a variety of agencies with expertise in different aspects of document and benefit fraud. These investigators will partner with U.S. Attorney's offices to develop a comprehensive approach in targeting criminal organizations behind these schemes, as well as the beneficiaries of such fraud. Any case where a sufficient nexus to terrorism is discovered will be referred to the Joint Terrorism Task Forces.

Participants in the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces include ICE, the Department of Justice, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Department of Labor, Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, State Department Office of Inspector General, State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and numerous state and local law enforcement agencies.

ICE is in a unique position to lead these new task forces, given the agency's combined immigration and customs authorities. Furthermore, ICE brings the expertise of its Forensic Document Laboratory (FDL), which is recognized as one of the premier fraudulent document analysis facilities in the world. Every year, the FDL provides forensic document support to thousands of cases from agencies in the United States and around the world. ICE will also provide the services of its Cyber Crimes Center to investigate any Internet-related aspects of document and benefit fraud uncovered by the task forces.

Washington, D.C. / Northern Virginia Model

The Document and Benefit Task Forces are modeled on the multi-agency task force recently launched by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Under this effort, a host of different agencies were brought together in Virginia to lend their respective expertise to these investigations and prosecutions. As a result, some of the largest document and benefit fraud investigations in the nation have been prosecuted in this judicial district.

In the past year, ICE agents working under this task force umbrella with the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Department of Labor, Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, Department of State and the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, have arrested more than 40 counterfeit document vendors. They have also executed 12 search warrants and closed down seven document mills during this period. Roughly 10,000 counterfeit documents have been seized with an estimated street value of $1 million. These efforts have targeted major counterfeit document organizations operating in the area.

Understanding Document and Benefit Fraud

The task forces primarily target two types of crimes:

Document Fraud

This crime refers to the manufacture, sale or use of counterfeit identity documents -- such as fake driver's licenses, birth certificates, Social Security cards or passports -- for immigration fraud or other criminal activity. Document fraud also involves efforts to obtain genuine identity documents through fraudulent means. These activities have helped illegal aliens, criminals and even terrorists evade detection and embed themselves in our society. Document fraud often supports the crime of benefit fraud.

The threat posed by document fraud is exemplified by the fact that at least seven of the 9/11 hijackers obtained genuine Virginia identity documents by submitting fraudulent Virginia identification cards. Using these ID cards, the hijackers were able to clear airport security and board the aircraft for the attacks.

Benefit Fraud

This crime refers to the misrepresentation or omission of a material fact on an application to obtain an immigration benefit one is not entitled to -- such as U.S. citizenship, permanent residence in the U.S or a valid visa. Because these benefits give one the ability to freely enter, work or reside in this country, they are prized by illegal aliens, criminals and terrorists who may be willing to pay substantial fees for them. As a result, the criminal organizations that help individuals fraudulently obtain immigration benefits reap enormous profits.

Among those who have benefited from this type of fraud is Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who engaged in asylum fraud to enter this country. Every year, tens of thousands of applications for immigration benefits are denied because of fraud. One recent audit estimated that as many as 33 percent of applications for one particular category of visa were fraudulent.

Trends in Document and Benefit Fraud

Document and benefit fraud have surged in recent years, requiring a new approach from law enforcement. ICE established an Identity and Benefit Fraud Unit shortly after the agency was created in March 2003 to oversee ongoing field operations related to these crimes. By targeting investigations on larger and more egregious criminal organizations, the Identity and Benefit Fraud Unit is focusing on high-impact investigations that result in significant arrests and seizures.

At the same time, fraud schemes have become more sophisticated thanks to new technology. In the past, the tools of the counterfeit document trade were typewriters and pieces of plastic. Today's document forgers use computer software and high-resolution digital scanners to ply their trade. Criminal organizations are also using the Internet to market and distribute fake documents and immigration benefits to customers.

Because of the potential for high profits, investigators are increasingly finding large-scale criminal organizations involved in these schemes. In one case in Denver, ICE agents discovered that members of the Mexico-based Castorena family counterfeit document organization controlled cells in at least 33 U.S. states. The cell “heads” paid as much as $15,000 per month to leaders of the Castorena organization for the right to operate fake document “franchises” in each U.S. city. Counterfeit documents manufactured by this single criminal organization have been found in all 50 states.

Investigations have also revealed that violators in many benefit fraud schemes are often professional attorneys, immigration consultants and executives drawn by the profits they can reap from a desperate clientele.

Recent ICE Identity and Benefit Fraud Investigations
Document Fraud Cases

Twenty-two arrested in Boston phony document ring -- From June 5 through June 8, 2006, Boston ICE agents assigned to the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF) executed nine federal arrest warrants, four search warrants and one consent search. The enforcement actions were in furtherance of six ICE-led investigations. The arrest warrants were based upon violations of Title 18 USC 1028, identification document fraud. The search warrants resulted in the seizure of six computers and document-making implements at five residences. Agents administratively arrested 13 additional subjects, all undocumented Brazilian and Guatemalan nationals, for immigration violations.

Seven counterfeit document mills in Los Angeles seized -- On March 30, 2006, ICE agents in Los Angeles seized seven counterfeit document labs or “mills” and arrested 11 individuals on charges of supplying a significant number of the fraudulent identity and immigration documents being sold on the streets of Los Angeles.

Leaders of international counterfeit document organization charged -- In February 2006, Francisco Javier Miranda-Espinosa, a member of one of the largest fraudulent document organizations ever targeted in the U.S., was sentenced in Denver to 11 years in prison. Miranda-Espinosa was a lieutenant in the Castorena Family Organization. More than 50 members of this large-scale organization have been prosecuted in Denver alone. The Mexico-based leader of the ring, Pedro Castorena-Ibarra, was indicted in July 2005. On June 17, 2006, Mexican law enforcement officers and ICE Attaché Mexico City agents arrested Castorena-Ibarra pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. Castorena-Ibarra was on the ICE “Most Wanted” fugitive list. Castorena-Ibarra is currently awaiting extradition.

Two convicted of conspiring to provide fake documents to terrorists -- On May 20, 2005, Cedric Carpenter and Lamont Ranson were sentenced in Mississippi for conspiring to sell false documents to individuals they believed were members of Abu Sayyaf, a Philippines-based group designated as a foreign terrorist organization. The undercover investigation was conducted by ICE agents. Carpenter was sentenced to 63 months in prison, while Ranson was sentenced to 29 months in prison.

Fifty-two arrested in fraud scheme involving Florida driver's licenses and HAZMAT licenses -- On April 28, 2005, ICE and other law enforcement agencies in Florida arrested 52 individuals, including several Florida Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) officials, who were part of a scheme to unlawfully produce and distribute Florida driver's licenses. The DMV officials were accused of providing valid driver's licenses, HAZMAT licenses and commercial driver's licenses to more than 2,000 illegal aliens for a fee. Several illegal aliens who received these licenses had criminal histories. Preliminary reports from the Florida Highway Patrol indicated that at least 11 auto accidents were attributed to those who illegally obtained commercial driver's licenses from this scheme.

Benefit Fraud Cases

H1B Visa fraud ring broken in California -- On August 14, 2006, Phillip Abromowitz, a U.S. citizen, pled guilty in the U.S. District Court Central District of California. Abromowitz plead to two counts of fraud and one count of conspiracy. This ICE-led investigation revealed that Abromowitz was a principal in an employment fraud investigation that charges undocumented aliens thousands of dollars to acquire fraudulent H1B Visas. The plea also requires Abromowitz to individually forfeit $650,000 to ICE as criminal proceeds of visa fraud and pay a $100,000 fine, in addition to agreeing to allow the government to forfeit the $370,000 already seized from the law firm.

This ICE-led investigation targeted one of the largest immigration law firms on the west coast, the Law Corporation of KAF. The operation targeted various employment agencies including Job Seekers International and Employment Masters International, who conspired with attorneys at the KAF law firm to charge alien clients thousands of dollars to assist them in obtaining immigration visas through the filing of employment-based petitions and supporting documentation with the government that contained false and fraudulent information. The aliens were nationals from various countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh. During the course of the investigation, 24 federal arrest warrants have been executed.

Utah marriage fraud ring busted -- Salt Lake City ICE agents with the assistance USCIS and the Department of State Diplomatic Security identified an international organization that arranges fraudulent marriages between U.S. citizens and Vietnamese nationals for the purpose of obtaining permanent residency in the United States. The U.S. citizen petitioners received approximately $10,000 to participate in the fraudulent marriage, while the families of the Vietnamese nationals paid in excess of $30,000 upon receipt of permanent residence. The fraud organization is responsible for arranging approximately 300 fraudulent marriages.

On August 7, 2006, Salt Lake City ICE agents arrested 21 individuals who are linked to the fraud ring. Hoa Thanh Vo and Henry Nguyen, both naturalized U.S. citizens from Vietnam, were identified as the heads of the organization. San Francisco ICE agents executed seizure warrants on two residences and two bank accounts. The estimated combined equity of the homes is $277,000 and approximately $36,000 was seized from the bank accounts.

ICE cracks New York marriage fraud ring -- On June 7, 2006, New York ICE agents arrested 26 individuals linked to a marriage fraud ring in New York City. Among those arrested were Phillip Browne, a former USCIS adjudication officer, and his sister, Beverly Mozer-Browne. ICE agents arrested 23 of the subjects in New York, two in Florida and one in North Carolina. The targeted organization arranged fraudulent marriages between U.S. citizens and nationals of Trinidad, India, Pakistan, Grenada, Guyana, St. Vincent and Jamaica for the purpose of obtaining lawful permanent residency in the United States. The organization is responsible for approximately 200 fraudulent marriages. Phillip Browne intercepted and diverted many of the fraudulent marriage petitions after they had been scheduled for interviews. He then adjudicated those applications without the required in-person interviews. ICE also seized six private residences belonging to members of the marriage fraud conspiracy that have a cumulative estimated value of approximately $1.4 million.

Millions seized in case involving more than 1,000 fraudulent labor petitions -- On January 13, 2006, ICE agents in Newark arrested Narendra Mandalapa and seized $5.7 million in assets and numerous luxury vehicles in connection with a massive visa fraud scheme in New Jersey. An Indian national, Mandalapa was charged with operating a scheme in which he filed nearly 1,000 fraudulent labor petitions for Indian and Pakistani illegal aliens seeking to enter or remain in the United States.

Forty-four charged in massive marriage fraud investigation -- On November 30, 2005, ICE announced indictments against 44 individuals in Orange County, California, for participating in an elaborate scheme to obtain fraudulent visas for hundreds of Chinese and Vietnamese nationals based on sham marriages to U.S. citizens. The three-year probe, called Operation “Newlywed Game,” was one of the largest marriage fraud cases ever undertaken in the United States. Facilitators in the scheme charged aliens up to $60,000 to orchestrate fake marriages and even helped them fabricate love letters.

Convictions in massive asylum fraud scheme -– In February 2005, prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia secured their 11th guilty plea after an ICE-led investigation resulted in the indictment of 26 defendants for asylum fraud, labor certification fraud and document fraud. The two-year investigation, known as “Operation Jakarta,” targeted four Indonesian immigration brokerages in Virginia that allegedly helped thousands of Indonesian aliens in the United States use fraud to apply for government benefits, including asylum and Virginia driver's licenses, in return for a fee.

Arrests in Virginia marriage fraud investigation -- On September 7, 2006, ICE agents and other task force officers assigned to the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force executed 19 criminal federal arrest warrants, seven federal search warrants and 13 administrative arrests. The investigation targeted a loose network of individuals who attempted to provide immigration benefits by arranging fraudulent marriages. The investigation is based upon a referral from the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD), which noted the involvement of aliens from special interest countries. The investigation has identified at least 100 fraudulent marriages conducted in Arlington, VA.

New York mosque director convicted in large-scale religious worker visa scam -- On September 23, 2004, Muhammad Khalil, the former Imam of a Brooklyn mosque, was convicted of orchestrating a massive visa fraud scheme in which he filed fraudulent paperwork to help more than 200 illegal aliens from Pakistan and other nations obtain religious worker visas to enter this country. ICE found that none of the illegal alien recipients of these visas were religious workers.

Imam convicted of concealing terrorist affiliations to obtain U.S. citizenship -– On June 18, 2004, a federal jury in Akron, Ohio, convicted Fawaz Mohammed Damrah of unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship through a false application in which he concealed from the U.S. government his membership in or affiliation with 1) the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a.k.a. the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine; 2) the Afghan Refugees Services, Inc., a.k.a. Al-Kifah Refugee Center; and 3) the Islamic Committee for Palestine. The indictment further alleged that Damrah concealed the fact that he had, prior to his application for U.S. citizenship, “incited, assisted or otherwise participated in the persecution” of Jews and others by advocating violent terrorist attacks against Jews and others. The guilty verdict followed an investigation by ICE, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Ohio.