Nine individuals have been charged with conspiring to use stolen identities to obtain New Jersey digital driver’s licenses, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced on Sept. 10.
They allegedly used the licenses to fraudulently purchase and finance motor vehicles and water craft worth more than $1.3 million at dealerships in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
The defendants allegedly obtained New Jersey digital driver’s licenses from the North Bergen and Jersey City Motor Vehicle Commissions (MVC), using the stolen identities of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and fake Puerto Rico driver’s licenses, and other false documents, including Social Security cards, debit cards, and birth certificates.
After buying a vehicle on credit, the defendants would allegedly “wash” the vehicle title by creating a fraudulent lien release or fraudulent title indicating there was no lien on the vehicle. The fake document was used to obtain a clean title in another state. That clean title was then used to transfer ownership to another individual, often within the conspiracy, allowing the vehicle to be shipped overseas.
Cars, boats, jet skis, and fake licenses
From February 2017 through December 2018, they allegedly fraudulently purchased, financed, titled and or transferred 26 motor vehicles and three water craft with trailers, including one boat and two jet skis. They used the fraudulently obtained New Jersey driver’s licenses and the identities and credit of the victims in Puerto Rico to finance the purchases.
Ten vehicles were recovered in the U.S., but it is believed the others were shipped overseas, including seven known to have been shipped to the Dominican Republic.
Eight of the nine defendants charged allegedly personally obtained New Jersey driver’s licenses using stolen identities and made fraudulent purchases of vehicles and or water craft in New Jersey or other states. The ninth defendant, Reyfy Gonzalez, allegedly conspired with the others in the document fraud and was involved in receiving and transferring stolen vehicles and water craft.
Six of the defendants are charged with theft by deception for allegedly personally making fraudulent purchases in New Jersey.
The following nine defendants were charged by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice in Operation Export: Taina G. Perez, 27, of Methuen, MA; Reyfy Gonzalez, 31, of Fort Lee, NJ; Jose M. Irizarry, 44, of New Haven, CT; Ricardo Acevedo, 32, of Lawrence, MA; Andy A. Mazara, 27, of Lawrence, MA; Tirson Ruiz, 50, of Lawrence, MA; Alvaro J. Alvarez-Capio, 45, of Lowell, MA; Willie A. Samuel-Baldayaquez, 38, of Newark, NJ; and Guillermo Alex Cruz-Guerrero, 42, of OH.
Irizarry and Gonzalez are in custody in New Jersey; Samuel-Baldayaquez is in custody in Connecticut; Cruz-Guerrero is in custody in Ohio; and Ruiz was previously deported.The remaining defendants are in custody in Massachusetts.
The defendants were charged in “Operation Export,” an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau that began with a referral from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s Security and Investigations Unit.
The Motor Vehicle Commission alerted the Attorney General’s Office after discovering that the Puerto Rico driver’s licenses used by the defendants to obtain New Jersey digital driver’s licenses were fraudulent.
“Within the span of two years, these defendants allegedly purchased over $1.3 million worth of vehicles and water craft using stolen identities and fraudulently obtained New Jersey digital driver’s licenses,” said Attorney General Grewal. “They then shipped a number of the stolen vehicles overseas. This case highlights that fraud involving official documents frequently is tied to larger criminal conspiracies, including identity theft and financial fraud, among other illegal activities.”
Federal law enforcement agencies in New Jersey and other states have uncovered the same or similar criminal activity and are pursuing charges against several of the aforementioned defendants, as well as additional defendants.
The United States Attorneys’ Offices for the District of Massachusetts and Northern District of Ohio announced charges on Sept. 10 stemming from an investigation by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations’ Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has worked cooperatively with the federal agencies.
“Identity theft is an ever-present threat, and when criminals are able to convert stolen identities into powerful identification documents, such as driver’s licenses, the potential for fraud and harm to victims grows exponentially, as this case illustrates,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice.
‘A two-pronged strategy’
The New Jersey MVC uses a two-pronged strategy to reduce the incidents of fraudulent documents used to acquire New Jersey driver’s licenses. They conduct commission-wide training in advanced fraudulent document identification and assign trained investigators to examine the authenticity of suspect documents.
When investigators detect an increase in fraudulent documents, such as counterfeit Puerto Rico driver’s licenses, MVC field investigators give these documents greater scrutiny as they are presented in licensing centers.
“This is a reminder that a big part of our job at the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission is to prevent fraud, including identity theft,” said MVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton. “I commend our Security and Investigations team for their diligence and skill in helping launch the investigation that ultimately put a stop to this.”
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
The charges are merely accusations, The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.