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22 Charged in City Crackdown on Fake ID Cards

August 06, 2003|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Even newcomers to Los Angeles, like Police Chief William J. Bratton, know MacArthur Park is the place to buy fake identification.

And in announcing the latest charges against 22 alleged hawkers of counterfeit documents, Bratton and City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo said Tuesday that the situation is now a matter of national security.

"Counterfeit identification is a cloak of terrorism," said Delgadillo, flanked by Bratton on the park corner where traffickers in everything from driver's licenses to resident alien cards often stand.

Delgadillo said almost all the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had used counterfeit identification, as had the man convicted of trying to bring in explosives from Canada in 1999 in a plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport.

"The events of Sept. 11 have focused our attention on the issue," Bratton said. "It's a growing problem."

Government agencies estimate that sales of fake driving licenses, Social Security cards and resident alien cards account for $1 billion annually.

Delgadillo said the counterfeit identification industry is also exacerbating the nation's fastest growing crime problem: identity theft. California alone registered nearly 31,000 identity-theft complaints in 2002. A city Counterfeit Document Task Force established last March has helped prosecute 71 cases related to counterfeit identification, and has obtained 30 convictions.

Many of the 22 charged with misdemeanors on Tuesday were captured after they flashed a "C" -- the street sign for counterfeit ID -- when undercover officers were watching.

That's what prosecutors contend Visquieno Abran did. Abran hid the counterfeit documents in a barbecue grill outside an 8th Street restaurant before dealing them out, officials allege.

In another case, Pedro Ruiz was approached by an officer in an undercover car, who asked for a Social Security card and was allegedly told the price was $30.

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