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INS Busts Major Fake ID Ring

Law enforcement: The 10-day O.C. operation yields four arrests, nearly 20,000 high-quality bogus cards and equipment for producing them, authorities say.

September 20, 1996|DON LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — U.S. immigration agents, dealing a blow to a multi-state counterfeit document ring, said Thursday that they have seized almost 20,000 fake cards and arrested four people suspected of distributing and selling them on the streets of Santa Ana and elsewhere.

In raids and arrests made over the last 10 days, agents seized the fraudulent cards, along with an array of equipment used to make them, from two houses and a public storage facility, all in Santa Ana.

John Brechtel, head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's operations in Orange County, said the number of fake documents--green cards, Social Security cards, drivers' licenses--was one of the largest uncovered by agents in the county.

INS officials have long been concerned about the proliferation of forged documents that are widely used by people to obtain work and circumvent immigration laws. A government test project found, for example, that one of four newly employed immigrants at 230 Southland firms presented invalid work documents between last October and May.

Brechtel described the quality of the fake documents seized in Santa Ana as "outstanding." The counterfeit permanent resident alien cards, commonly known as green cards, were typically sold for $40 apiece, he said, while Social Security cards sold for $10 to $30.

"There are still other tentacles out there," Brechtel said, noting that the investigation is continuing. He said this counterfeit ring in Santa Ana had been supplying distributors in several states.

"This is a major break in our investigation," Brechtel added.

Caesar Delgado Gonzalez, 29, and Antonio Garcia Avila, 26, both Santa Ana residents, were arrested and arraigned last week. Two other men were taken into custody Thursday but were not identified.

In another matter Thursday, INS officials said they arrested 69 undocumented workers employed by Beach Bloomers, a garment shop in Santa Ana that employs 102 people in all.

Brechtel said the INS was still looking into the firm's hiring practices, but noted that there was no evidence yet that the employer knowingly hired unauthorized workers. In case of unlawful hirings, an employer could face fines of up to $2,000 for each undocumented worker.

Operators of Beach Bloomers could not be reached for comment Thursday. And it was unclear whether the firm, bereft of most of its employees, was continuing to operate. INS officials said they would refer Beach Bloomers to the state Employment Development Department, which maintains a list of job seekers whose work status has been verified by the INS.

The raids in Santa Ana were part of the INS's stepped-up enforcement efforts in the county. Since last October, the INS said, 24 Orange County employers have been fined nearly $730,000 for illegal hiring practices.

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