Operation Island Express II Nets Two Document Suppliers in Puerto Rican Identity Trafficking Scheme

Posted: 1:14 am ET
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On March 14, 2017, USDOJ announced that two identity document suppliers were sentenced to prison for their role in trafficking the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents:

Francisco Matos-Beltre, 43, a Dominican national who became a U.S. citizen in 2013, formerly of Philadelphia, was sentenced to serve 51 months in prison and three years’ supervised release. Isaias Beltre-Matos, 46, a Dominican national and legal permanent resident formerly of Providence, Rhode Island, was sentenced to serve 51 months in prison and three years’ supervised release. Both defendants were sentenced before U.S. District Judge Juan M. Perez-Gimenez of the District of Puerto Rico. Beltre-Matos pleaded guilty on Aug. 10, 2016, to conspiracy to commit identification fraud and commit human smuggling for financial gain. Matos-Beltre pleaded guilty on Sept. 14, 2016, to conspiracy to commit identification fraud and commit human smuggling for financial gain.

According to admissions made in connection with the pleas, identity document runners located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Other conspirators, identified as identity document suppliers and brokers, located in various cities throughout the United States allegedly solicited customers for the sale of social security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $400 to $1,200 per set. The defendants also admitted that the conspirators used the U.S. mail to complete their illicit transactions.

According to the pleas, Beltre-Matos admitted that he sold identity documents to customers, who generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and to obtain additional identification documents, such as legitimate state driver’s licenses. Some customers obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport, according to the plea agreement. Matos-Beltre also admitted to being a document supplier and that he bought and transferred identity documents belonging to real people to document brokers. Matos-Beltre admitted that he knew his customers would fraudulently use the documents that he provided.

Diplomatic Security special agents record evidence seized during a training exercise to execute a search warrant in suburban Washington, D.C., July 21, 2009. U.S. Department of State Photo.

USDOJ also announced the contact info for potential victims:

Potential victims and the public may obtain information about the case at: www.justice.gov/criminal/vns/caseup/beltrerj.html. Anyone who believes their identity may have been compromised in relation to this investigation may contact the ICE toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) and its online tip form at www.ice.gov/tipline. Anyone who may have information about particular crimes in this case should also report it to the ICE tip line or website.

Anyone who believes that they have been a victim of identity theft, or wants information about preventing identity theft, may obtain helpful information and complaint forms on various government websites including the Federal Trade Commission ID Theft Website, www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Additional resources regarding identity theft can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/pubs/ID_theft/idtheft.htmlwww.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.htmlwww.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/identity_theft; and www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=186436,00.html.

USDOJ credits the Chicago offices of ICE-HSI, USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI for leading the investigation, dubbed Operation Island Express II.  Also cited are HSI San Juan and the DSS Resident Office in Puerto Rico, the HSI Assistant Attaché office in the Dominican Republic and International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2).  Trial Attorneys Marianne Shelvey of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Frank Rangoussis of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section prosecuted the case, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Puerto Rico was cited for providing assistance.

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CDC Issues Zika Virus Guidance For 14 Countries and Territories in the Western Hemisphere

Posted: 12:58 am EDT
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The Centers for Disease Control on January 15 issued an interim travel guidance related to Zika virus for 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Out of an abundance of caution, the CDC is advising pregnant women to consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.  We have not seen any guidance from the State Department. If you are in the Foreign Service, pregnant, and assigned to these 13 countries in the Western Hemisphere, please contact State/MED for guidance.

Zika was reported for the first time in Brazil in May 2015, and the virus has since been reported in 14 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean:  Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  For a list of countries that have past and current evidence of the virus, please click here.

Map from cdc.gov

Map from cdc.gov

Below is an excerpt from the CDC announcement:

CDC has issued a travel alert (Level 2-Practice Enhanced Precautions) for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

This alert follows reports in Brazil of microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. However, additional studies are needed to further characterize this relationship. More studies are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy.

Until more is known, and out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant:

  • Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
  • Women trying to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.

Because specific areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing are difficult to determine and likely to change over time, CDC will update this travel notice as information becomes available. Check the CDC travel website frequently for the most up-to-date recommendations.

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika. Four in five people who acquire Zika infection may have no symptoms. Illness from Zika is usually mild and does not require hospitalization. Travelers are strongly urged to protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535. Always use as directed.
    • Insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, and IR3535 are safe for pregnant and nursing women and children older than 2 months when used according to the product label. Oil of lemon eucalyptus products should not be used on children under 3 years of age.
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents).
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.

Read the full announcement here.

CDC is reportedly working with public health experts across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take additional steps related to Zika.  In addition, efforts are also underway across HHS to develop vaccines, improved diagnostics and other countermeasures for Zika according to CDC.

 

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