NEWARK — A New Jersey-based identity-fraud ring used immigration documents stolen from a federal government office in California to help hundreds of illegal immigrants get driver’s licenses and student visas, federal officials said Wednesday as they announced charges against 22 people in six states.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in Newark said authorities have identified as many as 700 transactions involving fraudulent documents, most by South Koreans who were in the United States illegally and who each paid between $3,000 and $4,500 for the service.
Seventeen people had been arrested as of Wednesday afternoon in New Jersey, California, Georgia, Nevada, New York and Virginia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
A similar scheme was uncovered in 2010 in which more than 50 people from northern New Jersey were charged with helping people fraudulently obtain credit cards, bank accounts and loans using illegally obtained Social Security numbers. That case produced an informant who infiltrated the current group and purchased fraudulent documents and secretly recorded conversations that helped bring about the latest charges, FBI New Jersey chief Michael Ward said.
“This particular case addresses a key vulnerability we have,” Ward said. “This kind of fraud is considered a gateway crime. It’s not the endgame. It’s usually in furtherance of something else” such as financial fraud and it makes it easier to avoid detection.
The criminal complaint alleges that Young-Kyu Park, of Fort Lee, currently living in Los Angeles, is the ringleader, and he obtained blank I-797 forms from a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services contract employee working at a center in Montclair, Calif. The forms are used by immigration authorities, who share them with other government agencies when an immigration issue arises.
The ring printed customers’ personal information on the blank forms and used receipt numbers that corresponded to numbers that were already in the system, Fishman said. The fraudulent documents were then used to procure driver’s licenses and other forms of identification, he said.
The defendants include Park’s wife, Soong-Young Park, and daughter Hanna Park. They each face one count of conspiracy to unlawfully produce identification documents and one count of money laundering conspiracy. The ID conspiracy carries a maximum prison term of 15 years; the money laundering conspiracy, a maximum of 20 years.
Young-Kyu Park, 54, faces the same two counts plus one count of conspiracy to steal government property and transport it in interstate commerce, a crime punishable by a maximum five-year sentence.
Martin Trejo, 45, of Rialto, Calif., the customs service contract employee, and Karine Michmichian, of Studio City, Calif., 39, accused of being the conduit between Trejo and Park, each face the count of conspiracy to steal government property.
It was not immediately known if the defendants had retained attorneys.