Two Hondurans have been arrested in Florida and charged with obtaining false U.S. identity documents after illegally buying birth certificates and Social Security cards that belonged to Puerto Ricans.
Gerardo Roberto Hernández-Reyes was arrested Sept. 11 in Martin County and Raiza Melissa Sánchez Romero was arrested June 10 at Miami International Airport (MIA) after arriving aboard an American Airlines flight from Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.
The cases, revealed in two separate criminal complaints filed in federal court, come only four years after the government in San Juan took radical steps to curb then widespread fraud involving birth certificates of people born in Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth.
In 2010, all island-born Puerto Ricans were required to replace their old birth certificates under a law aimed at thwarting ID and document fraud. State Department officials at the time said that about 40 percent of U.S. passport fraud cases were linked to the illegal sale of Puerto Rican birth certificates to foreign nationals.
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The Miami criminal complaints do not say whether the fraud allegedly perpetrated by the suspects involved old or new Puerto Rican birth certificates. But the tactics involved in the new fraud cases were the same.
In both cases, the Honduran suspects paid money to a person in exchange for a Puerto Rican birth certificate.
In the Hernández case, the criminal complaint said the defendant paid $2,500 to “an unknown individual” to obtain a Puerto Rican birth certificate in the name of Anthony Medina Torres to apply for a Florida driver’s license.
The Hernández case began on March 18 when immigration authorities learned that the defendant had “fraudulently obtained” the driver’s license by posing as Medina.
Undocumented immigrants cannot obtain driver’s licenses in Florida. As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans can apply for a Florida driver’s license by presenting a birth certificate.
The complaint says investigators learned that Hernández was not Medina because they established the whereabouts of the Puerto Rican.
“On March 19, 2014,” the complaint says, “[investigators] confirmed that the ‘true’ Anthony Medina is incarcerated in the Ponce Main Correctional Institution in Ponce, Puerto Rico.”
Investigators also learned that on May 19, Hernández, posing as Medina, received a Florida driver’s license in Martin County.
Hernández was arrested Sept. 11 and after being read his rights he “admitted to purchasing a Puerto Rican birth certificate and Social Security card” in Medina’s name.
The Sánchez case unfolded June 10 when she arrived at MIA from Tegucigalpa. She had boarded the flight using a U.S. passport, according to a criminal complaint filed by a special agent with the State Department’s diplomatic security service.
On arrival, Sánchez presented to a U.S. passport control officer an American passport in the name of “JCF,” the complaint says. The passport control officer became suspicious for some reason and referred Sánchez to an interrogation room.
“The photograph on the United States passport was of the defendant,” the complaint said, but investigators soon learned that the suspect was not entitled to the document because she was not a U.S. citizen.
“The defendant admitted that she paid $1,500 for the Puerto Rican birth certificate and social security card for JCF and that she used that birth certificate to obtain the United States passport,” the complaint says.
Hernández was indicted on Sept. 29 and pleaded not guilty the next day before Magistrate Judge Frank Lynch in Fort Pierce. His attorney declined comment.
Sánchez pleaded not guilty on June 6, but a month later changed her plea to guilty. She was sentenced Sept. 16 to five months in prison and three years supervised release.