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Courts determine true identities of men in ID fraud case

By Tim Ruzek

truzek@postbulletin.com

Authorities are calling last week’s arrests in Austin a big step in an ongoing effort to bust distributors of fraudulent ID documents.

"We believe we dismantled a major document-distribution organization that was operating in Austin," said Claude Arnold, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent in Bloomington, Minn.

Two men were arrested during a search warrant Wednesday at 709 Fifth Ave. N.W., Apt. 2. One is facing a federal indictment for U.S. Social Security fraud.

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Five ICE agents helped police with the search, leading to the seizure of numerous documents and $3,810 in cash, the report says.

Arnold said it’s an ongoing investigation and wouldn’t say if more arrests could be coming.

The Austin operation was tied to a larger distribution scheme, in which documents were obtained and forwarded from a Texas organization, Arnold said. The documents then were distributed in Arkansas, Minnesota and Iowa, he said.

Although initially identified as Jose Delgado, the Austin man now in federal custody actually is Santiago Lopez Avendano, said Tim Counts, the ICE spokesman in the Twin Cities. An ICE agent testified Monday to the man’s real name at an identity hearing in federal court, he said.

Several arrested

Avendano is one of several people — the others were arrested elsewhere — indicted in federal court this month in Arkansas for conspiracy to commit Social Security fraud from about June 2007 to Feb. 3, 2009. Delgado is the name used on the indictment.

Avendano, 27, and others bought ID documents from Wilfredo Javier Rottier, of Texas, for about $800 per identity, the indictment says. Delgado and the others allegedly then sold the IDs to other people.

The other Austin man arrested was Jose Mendoza Paz, 28, also known as Michael Anthony Aleman and Mauricio Gonzalez.

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Paz, who denied selling documents, faces six felony counts of aggravated forgery in Mower District Court for having false ID documents.

Austin Police Chief Paul Philipp said Monday he’s pleased with ICE’s assistance. Fraudulent ID documents are a "relatively significant problem" in Austin and elsewhere, he said.

People who buy the false ID documents, Arnold said, could be trying to get work or looking to assume a different identity because they are criminal fugitives.

"We don’t know. That’s why it’s such a serious vulnerability," Arnold said, referring to groups that can provide identities to people not known to authorities.

Report gives more details

According to an Austin police report, last week’s search stemmed from a lengthy ICE investigation into the illegal distribution and sale of documents. That work led an ICE agent to a distributor or vendor living at the Austin home by the name of Jose Delgado.

ICE intercepted several packages between Nov. 7 and Dec. 30 being mailed from Brownsville, Texas, to the Austin home. They found numerous documents, including birth certificates and matching Social Security cards.

Three document sets mailed to Austin later were used to get Minnesota state ID cards, the report says. Those identities belonged to three men with lengthy criminal histories in Texas.

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Avendano was using the identities of Juan Jose Buenrostro Jr. and Jose Delgado, the report says. ICE agents identified the real Buenrostro, who recently was arrested in Texas, and the true Delgado, who is incarcerated in Yankton, S.D.

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