BOSTON – Twelve individuals were charged in federal court in Boston as a result of a federal sweep targeting offenders of document and benefit fraud. The defendants have allegedly used the identities of U.S. Citizens from Puerto Rico as their own. Ten of the 12 individuals charged today are unlawfully present in the United States, and six have criminal records in the names of the victims whose identities they have stolen.
The investigation was conducted by Homeland Security Investigation’s Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF), a specialized field investigative group comprised of personnel from various local, state, and federal agencies with expertise in detecting, deterring, and disrupting organizations and individuals involved in various types of document, identity, and benefit fraud schemes.
The DBFTF is currently investigating suspected aliens who are believed to have obtained stolen identities of United States citizens born in Puerto Rico. Many of the individuals used the identities to obtain public benefits, which they would not otherwise be eligible to receive, including Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles identity documents, Social Security numbers, and Medicaid, and to engage in suspicious financial transactions, including transferring funds.
With the exception of one defendant, the following individuals have each been charged with aggravated identity theft and false representation of a Social Security number:
“This case is part of our ongoing effort to target federal crime in the Lawrence area,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, “and we will keep up the pressure for as long as necessary. The 12 men and women charged allegedly stole and used the identities of U.S. citizens to live illegally in the United States, receive government benefits in the names of their victims, and even commit crimes in the names of those victims. This is a rampant problem, and my office is committed to helping those whose identities have been compromised to regain control over their lives.”
“The identity theft committed in these cases is a disrespect to our immigration laws,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations in Boston. “Today’s arrests are the culmination of months of intensive investigative interagency work by our Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force and partner agencies. We appreciate the U.S. Attorney’s commitment to prosecuting those arrested today. We are confident that facts in these cases will show that those who allegedly participated in these criminally fraudulent actions have committed not only identity theft crimes but also associated benefit fraud and financial crimes.”
“My Office and our partners take document benefit fraud very seriously,” said Scott Antolik, Special Agent in Charge of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations, Boston Field Division. “Those who misuse Social Security numbers affect the integrity of the entire Social Security system.”
“Document and identity fraud are serious crimes with far reaching and significant consequences for the individual victims, and which carry the potential for a broader threat to public safety and homeland security,” said Colonel Kerry Gilpin, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police. “We were pleased to be able to work with our law enforcement partners on this important operation.”
In July 2018, a DBFTF led investigation resulted in the arrests of 25 individuals on charges of identity theft and Social Security fraud.
The charge of aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year sentence that must run consecutively to any other sentence imposed, up to one year of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. False representation of a Social Security number provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; HSI SAC Fitzhugh; SSA OIG SAC Antolik; and Colonel Gilpin made the announcement today. Valuable assistance was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, Northeast Regional Office; the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations; the U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, Boston Field Office; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the Lawrence, Methuen, and Boston Police Departments. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sandra Bower, Lindsey Weinstein, and David Tobin of Lelling’s Criminal Division are prosecuting the cases.
The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.