Washington, DC - A seller of identity documents was arraigned Thursday, after being extradited from El Salvador, on a superseding indictment charging one count of conspiracy to possess and transfer identity documents, one count of conspiracy to commit human smuggling for financial gain, and 40 counts of aggravated identity theft, in relation to a scheme to traffic the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents. Judge Bruce McGiverin ordered the defendant detained.
The detention hearing and arraignment are scheduled for December 11.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Rosa E. Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico, Acting Director Ronald D. Vitiello of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Chief Postal Inspector Guy J. Cottrell of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service made the announcement.
Jose Armando Pavon Salazar (Pavon), 36, a citizen of Honduras, was arrested in El Salvador in January 2018 on an Interpol Red Notice and extradited to the United States on Nov. 28, to face identify fraud charges in the District of Puerto Rico. Pavon had been a fugitive since March 22, 2012, when a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Puerto Rico returned a 50-count superseding indictment charging Pavon and 52 other defendants with offenses involving a massive identity fraud scheme.
The superseding indictment alleges that between April 2009 and January 2012, Pavon and his co-conspirators operated an extensive black market identity fraud scheme. The superseding indictment alleges that conspirators located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, (Savarona suppliers) obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Conspirators, such as Pavon, in various locations throughout the United States (identity brokers) solicited customers. The identity brokers allegedly sold social security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $700 to $2,500 per set. The indictment alleges that identity brokers, including Pavon, ordered the identity documents from Savarona suppliers, on behalf of the customers, by making coded telephone calls, including using terms such as “shirts,” “uniforms” or “clothes,” to refer to identity documents. Specifically, the brokers asked for “skirts” for female customers and “pants” for male customers in various “sizes,” which referred to the ages of the identities sought by the customers.
According to the superseding indictment, the Savarona suppliers generally requested that customers’ initial payments be sent by the identity brokers through a money transfer service to persons whose names were provided by the Savarona suppliers. Savarona suppliers allegedly retrieved the payments from the money transfer service and then sent the identity documents to the brokers using express, priority or regular U.S. mail. The superseding indictment alleges that various conspirators sent or received money and mail parcels. The conspirators frequently confirmed sender names and addresses, money transfer control numbers and trafficked identities via text messaging.
According to the superseding indictment, once the identity brokers received the identity documents, they delivered the documents to the customers and obtained second payments. The brokers generally kept the second payments for themselves as profit. Some identity brokers allegedly assumed a Puerto Rican identity themselves, and used that identity in connection with the trafficking operation.
As alleged in the superseding indictment, the customers generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and to obtain additional identification documents, such as legitimate state driver’s licenses. Some customers allegedly obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport.
To date, dozens of persons have been convicted in connection with the scheme.
Trial Attorney Frank Rangoussis of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section is prosecuting the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Puerto Rico is providing assistance in this matter. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs handled the extradition in this matter
The charges in the superseding indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.