Making Immigration Happen
Chicago Woman Arrested for Selling Fraudulent Identity Documents to Illegal Aliens
A woman was arrested Wednesday, February 13, 2013, on charges she allegedly sold fraudulent identity documents to illegal aliens. These charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigra

Tag Archives: California

Multi-Million Customs Fraud Ring Busted

The president of the San Diego Customs Brokers Association, along with three international trade companies and seven other individual co-conspirators, are facing federal charges following a probe targeting a multi-million dollar customs fraud scheme inSouthern California. The charges are a culmination of a year-long investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). HSI received substantial assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

To date, this investigation has identified more than 90 commercial shipments from several countries. The estimated value of these shipments is valued at more than $100 million.

Three of the defendants, including Gerard Chavez, 42, the president of the San Diego Customs Brokers Association, were taken into custody by HSI special agents early Wednesday, July 25, 2012.

A 56-count criminal complaint accuses the 11 defendants in Southern California and Tijuana, Mexico, of orchestrating a lucrative customs fraud scheme that resulted in more than $10 million in lost customs duties, taxes and other revenue. The criminal charges include conspiracy to defraud the United States, falsely bringing in foods and obstruction of justice. These charges carry a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison.

“This investigation pulled back the curtain on a potentially costly fraud scheme operating in one of the world’s busiest commercial centers,” said ICE Director John Morton. “Instead, HSI, aided by our law enforcement partners, exposed and dismantled this criminal ring and now those responsible will be held accountable.”

“Every day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials work to protect the United States and interdict fraudulent goods from entering the country,” said CBP Acting Commissioner David V. Aguilar. “I commend the work of our officers for their instinct and diligence, and recognize the seamless coordination across government agencies. Joint efforts such as this are crucial to maintaining our nation’s economic security and competitiveness.”

According to the court documents, the defendants operated a ring and devised an elaborate scheme to exploit the in-bond import process, a routine feature of international trade that provides for duty-free importations on goods that do not formally enter into U.S. commerce.

As part of their scheme, Chavez and others procured foreign goods such as apparel made in China and cigarettes made in India that were shipped via ocean to the Port of Long Beach, Calif. They are accused of falsely generating paperwork and electronic entries into a government database to make it appear the shipments would be transshipped to Mexico, therefore not enter into U.S. commerce. Instead of transshipping the goods to Mexico, the defendants allegedly hired drivers to deliver them to warehouses in Southern California where they were eventually sold in the U.S. market. Chavez and others allegedly forged U.S. customs certifications to make it appear the shipments went to Mexico.

It is alleged one of Chavez’s customers, Sunil Mirwani, a 36-year-old importer who was taken into custody Wednesday, July 25, 2012, by HSI special agents, received dozens of shipments of illegally imported Chinese-made apparel at Los Angeles-area warehouses.

Mirwani marketed and sold the apparel using his Los Angeles-based import company, M Trade Inc., which is also a defendant in the case. Similarly, other defendants distributed various shipments of illegally imported cigarettes to warehouses, self-storage units and residences throughout Southern California.

A third defendant, Carlos Medina, 34, of Chula Vista, Calif., was also taken into custody Wednesday, July 25, 2012. Medina allegedly hired truck drivers and coordinated the delivery of illegally imported goods.

The other defendants charged in the fraud scheme case are:

  • Rene Trahin, 32, of San Diego, who allegedly distributed illegally imported cigarettes to warehouses, self-storage units and residences throughout Southern California. She is being sought by law enforcement.
  • Joel Varela Gonzalez, 32, of Tijuana, who allegedly used Chavez’s broker’s license to facilitate fraudulent shipments. He also allegedly conspired with others to cover up the shipments linked to salmonella and prohibited dye. He also allegedly forged certifications on shipments. He is being sought by law enforcement.
  • Elizabeth Sandoval, 50, of San Diego, allegedly conspired with others to mislabel foods that contained prohibited dye. She is being sought by law enforcement.
  • Enrique Perez Soltero, 39, allegedly facilitated the laundering of illicit proceeds linked to the fraud. He is being sought by law enforcement.
  • Juan Porter, 58, of Tijuana, allegedly managed a local trucking company that assisted in the diversion of cigarettes. He is being sought by law enforcement.
  • Tecate Logistics LLC, one of Chavez’s companies allegedly used in the fraudulent trade activity. The company operates as a small contract trucking and hauling service.
  • International Trade Consultants LLC, one of Chavez’s companies allegedly linked to the criminal activity.

During the investigations, law enforcement uncovered shipments of produce linked to the defendants that were infected by salmonella, a potentially life-threatening bacterium. In at least one of those shipments, several defendants acted to evade future inspection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of prickly pear cactus they were importing. They also allegedly conspired to mislabel Mexican snack foods that contained a prohibited dye.

Investigators say in addition to depriving the United States of the customs duties owed on the diverted shipments, the defendants also harmed lawful domestic businesses. By exploiting the in-bond process, the defendants imported duty-free goods, which were sold at cheaper prices, undercutting American manufacturers and hindering the U.S. economy.

Two Canadians Arrested for California Based Drug Scheme

Two Canadian men are expected to make their initial appearance in federal court the
afternoon of Friday, March 30, on charges stemming from their alleged role in a complex scheme operating out of Southern California to launder millions of dollars in drug proceeds for a Canada-based narcotics trafficking organization.

June Jie Zhang, 31, of Toronto, and John Philip Co, 41, of Richmond, British Columbia,  were arrested late the night of Wednesday, March 28. Co was taken into custody at a public storage facility in Costa Mesa by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Zhang was arrested by detectives from the South Gate police department at a casino in Commerce. The two men are charged in a federal criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute more than 37 kilograms of cocaine. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the
Central District of California. The charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The arrests are the culmination of a multi-agency undercover probe that began in
February after HSI Santa Ana received a lead about operatives for a Canada-based drug trafficking organization who were seeking to purchase large quantities of cocaine. The cocaine buys are a means for Canadian drug trafficking organizations to launder proceeds generated by the sale of the high-grade Canadian marijuana and Ecstasy the organizations export to the United States. The purchased cocaine is then smuggled back to Canada and sold.

“Money laundering can take many forms, but it’s unusual to find a scheme where suspects seek to cover their tracks by using criminal proceeds to buy more contraband,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “But Canadian organizations are willing to take the risk. First they reap huge profits by selling marijuana and Ecstasy in this country. Then they double their money by buying cocaine here and exporting it to Canada where it commands twice the price.”

As part of the investigation, HSI special agents posed as brokers for Mexican cocaine traffickers and initiated contact with the defendants. The affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint details a series of phone calls and meetings between the defendants and undercover special agents to finalize the cocaine sale. The afternoon of Wednesday, March 28, undercover special agents in Santa Ana and El Monte collected $750,000 in two separate cash payments. Meanwhile, Co was taken into custody at the storage facility
where he was allegedly waiting to retrieve the 80 pounds of cocaine purchased with those funds.

A subsequent search of a hotel room in Pasadena led to the discovery of an additional $350,000 and a ledger detailing other financial transactions. Based on evidence recovered during the probe, investigators suspect the defendants may have laundered more than $15 million in drug proceeds in the last year alone.

The case is the result of a multi-agency probe involving HSI Orange County; the La Habra, Downey, Santa Ana and South Gate police departments; and the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department.

Fresno Man Pleads Guilty to Fraudulent License Scheme

A Fresno-area man has pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges stemming from his role in a scheme to sell fraudulently obtained California driver’s licenses to ineligible  individuals.

Moreno Delgado, 31, of Riverdale, entered his guilty plea Monday, March 12. According
to the plea agreement, Delgado recruited people who wanted a genuine California driver’s
license but could not get one through legitimate means. Delgado would have them fill out the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) application form, and for a fee, he would pass the information and payment on.

Once former DMV technician and co-defendant Alfonso Casarez received the information
from Delgado, he electronically altered the individual’s driver’s license application to reflect that the person had passed required DMV tests that had never been taken or that the individual had failed. After alteration of the records, the DMV automatically issued and mailed a genuine driver’s license to the individual. Delgado admitted to recruiting three people for this scheme, one of whom received a Class A commercial license.

Delgado’s sentencing is set for May 29. He faces a maximum statutory penalty of five
years in prison.

This case is the product of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs  Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Investigations Division, Office of Internal Affairs. Assistant
U.S. Attorneys Henry Z. Carbajal III and Grant B. Rabenn are prosecuting the case.

Charges are currently pending against Casarez, as well as 11 other co-defendants. All
remaining defendants are scheduled for a hearing before Judge O’Neill May 21.