An indictment against nine defendants charged with conspiring to use stolen identities to obtain New Jersey digital driver’s licenses has been announced by Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck.
The defendants allegedly used the licenses to fraudulently purchase and finance vehicles and water craft worth over $1.3 million at dealerships in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
“By diligently investigating cases of document fraud related to New Jersey digital driver’s licenses, we frequently uncover larger criminal schemes involving identity theft and financial fraud,” said Bruck. “In this case, we collaborated with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and federal law enforcement partners to bring these defendants to justice, pursuing evidence across five states and even overseas.”
State grand jury indictment
The Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) Specialized Crimes Bureau obtained a state grand jury indictment on Friday, Nov. 5, charging the nine defendants with second-degree conspiracy and other offenses.
“This far-reaching investigation is a great example of seamless cooperation across jurisdictional lines,” said Director Lyndsay Routolo of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I commend the attorneys and detectives of our Specialized Crimes Bureau, as well as our federal partners and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. This 65-count indictment holds the defendants fully accountable for their alleged crimes in New Jersey.”
They were initially charged by complaint in September 2020 as part of Operation Export, an investigation by the DCJ Specialized Crimes Bureau that began with a referral from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) Security and Investigations Unit.
Alleged stolen identities and fake driver’s licenses
The defendants allegedly obtained New Jersey digital driver’s licenses from the Jersey City and North Bergen Motor Vehicle Agencies using the stolen identities of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and fake Puerto Rico driver’s licenses, as well as other false documents, including Social Security cards, debit cards, and birth certificates.
From February 2017 through March 2019, 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. This was allegedly done using the fraudulently obtained New Jersey driver’s licenses and the identities and credit of the victims in Puerto Rico.
Ten vehicles were recovered in the U.S., but others were shipped overseas, including seven shipped to the Dominican Republic. NJMVC alerted the Attorney General’s Office after discovering that the Puerto Rico driver’s licenses that the defendants used to obtain New Jersey digital driver’s licenses were fraudulent.
NJMVC uses a two-pronged strategy to reduce the incidents of fraudulent documents being used to acquire New Jersey driver’s licenses. They conduct commission-wide training in advanced fraudulent document identification and assign a team of trained investigators to examine the authenticity of suspect documents.
When investigators detect an increase in the appearance of certain fraudulent documents, such as counterfeit Puerto Rico driver’s licenses, NJMVC 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 NJMVC 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.”
Alleged ‘washing’ of stolen vehicles
It is alleged that eight of the defendants listed below personally obtained New Jersey digital driver’s licenses using stolen identities and fraudulently purchased vehicles and/or water craft in New Jersey or other states.
The ninth, Reyfy Gonzalez, allegedly conspired in the document fraud and received and transferred stolen vehicles and water craft. Six defendants are charged with theft by deception for allegedly making fraudulent purchases of vehicles and/or water craft in New Jersey.
After buying a vehicle on credit, the defendants allegedly “washed” the vehicle title by creating a false 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.
Federal law enforcement agencies in New Jersey and other states uncovered the same or similar criminal activity and are pursuing charges against several of the defendants listed below, as well as additional defendants. The U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the District of Massachusetts and Northern District of Ohio also announced charges in September 2020 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.
Nine charged in alleged ‘conspiracy’
The following nine defendants were indicted by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau in Operation Export: Reyfy Gonzalez, a 33-year-old from Cliffside Park; Taina G. Perez, a 28-year-old from Methuen, Massachusetts; Jose M. Irizarry, a 45-year-old from New Haven, Connecticut; Ricardo Acevedo, a 50-year-old from Paterson; Andy A. Mazara, a 28-year-old from Lawrence, Massachusetts; Tirson Ruiz, a 51-year-old from Lawrence, Massachusetts; Alvaro J. Alvarez-Capio, a 46-year-old from Lowell, Massacusetts; Willie A. Samuel-Baldayaquez, a 39-year-old from Newark; and Guillermo Alex Cruz-Guerrero, a 43-year-old from Ohio.
For a list of the individual charges, read the indictment posted online at: https://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases21/Gonzalez-et-al-Indictment.pdf
Irizarry and Acevedo are in federal custody in Massachusetts; Mazara, Samuel-Baldayaquez, and Cruz-Guerrero are in federal custody in Ohio; and Ruiz was previously deported. The remaining defendants were released from custody.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while 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 and 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.