Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Federal investigators believe they have broken up a Kansas-based group that helped dozens of illegal immigrants obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses using forged birth certificates and Social Security cards manufactured in Mexico over the past five years.
Victor Arcos-Tornez, 42; his wife, Alma Vazquez; and Manuel Solis-Zetino, 32, were arrested in Kansas on federal charges of aggravated identity theft, transfer of identification documents, aiding and abetting, and conspiracy. The three have since been transferred to New Mexico, where Arcos-Tornez and Vazquez were released under pretrial supervision and Solis-Zetino was ordered detained.
An indictment naming the three was unsealed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque last month after the arrests.
Agents believe they have identified at least 70 driver’s licenses obtained in New Mexico through the Kansas group, with illegal immigrants paying them thousands of dollars each to get Real ID-compliant licenses that can be used for air travel identification and to prove legal status in the United States.
According to federal court records, including search warrant affidavits, the investigation began two years ago when undercover agents from the Homeland Security Department began purchasing phony birth certificates from Manuel Solis-Zetino. In one undercover operation, agents in March 2017 bought a Texas state birth certificate and Social Security card from Solis-Zetino for $800.
Solis-Zetino, who lived in Liberal, Kan., told the undercover agent that the information on the documents was accurate, but there would be an extra fee if the agent wanted documents that could pass the federal E-Verify system.
Undercover agents arranged another purchase the next month, purchasing six Social Security cards, four birth certificates, and two Lawful Permanent Resident cards for $3,900.
Prior to the meeting, the undercover agent provided two digital photographs for the Lawful Permanent Resident cards.
In April 2018, agents followed Solis-Zetino when he transported two people from Kansas to New Mexico to obtain driver’s licenses here at an MVD Express, after obtaining documents that showed they had attended driving school and had insurance.
Solis-Zetino also provided the people obtaining licenses with a fraudulent New Mexico utility bill and lease agreement, according to court records.
Later that month, two people were stopped near Liberal, Kan., in a rental car and officers discovered a large number of fraudulent birth certificates and Social Security cards. The occupants, who were not identified, said they were delivering the documents to Victor Arcos-Tornez in Dodge City, Kan., and had been delivering the documents about 10 times a year since 2013.
Homeland Security agents from New Mexico then began investigating Arcos-Tornez and found evidence that he was meeting with Solis-Zetino in Dodge City near a construction business run by Arcos-Tornez.
According to court documents, Arcos-Tornez normally charged $950 for a set of one Social Security card and birth certificate. Arcos-Tornez charged $450 a set to Solis-Zetino.
During the summer, agents followed Solis-Zetino while he drove suspected illegal immigrants around Albuquerque to state MVD offices, a local driving school and a tax preparation office.
At the same time, Homeland Security agents began tracking money transfers from Arcos-Tornez’s bank accounts to a family living in Ciudad Juárez that is suspected of manufacturing the fraudulent documents used to obtain New Mexico driver’s licences.
Agents said they believe the fraudulent documents were smuggled from Juárez into El Paso, then sent to Arcos-Tornez in Kansas.
Agents received information that the documents were also being used to obtain driver’s licenses in Missouri.
Federal agents served search warrants in Kansas on the homes of Solis-Zetino and Arcos-Tornez and found fraudulent U.S. birth certificates, Social Security cards and state issued driver’s licenses.
Arcos-Tornez, wife Alma Vazquez and Solis-Zetino have pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.