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US Visas Said Sold on Mexican Street for $1500
Thu Feb 6, 7:01 PM ET  Add Top Stories - Reuters to My Yahoo!
By Deborah Tedford

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - U.S. Consulate staff in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo who have been charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud sold visas on the sidewalk at up to $1,500 a time, according to a court document seen on Thursday. An affidavit by an investigator in the case said that for four months, four employees -- one U.S. citizen and three Mexicans -- drummed up business on the street outside one of the busiest consulates on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The document, seen by Reuters, said the accused sold non-immigrant visas for fees many times their actual $100 cost.
One of the men -- Mexican Sergio Ochoa Alarcon -- stopped people as they headed into the consulate for appointments, telling them he could make sure their visa applications were approved in return for a bribe, the affidavit says.

Last week, the State Department shut down the consulate's visa unit and agents of the diplomatic security service interviewed consulate employees.
The four have appeared in a federal court in Texas where they have not yet entered a plea.

Bond was set at $150,000 for Miguel Partida, 41, a naturalized U.S. citizen. Ochoa, 31, and fellow-Mexicans Benjamin Antonio Ayala Morales, 34, and Ramon Alberto Torres Galvan, 34, are being held in federal custody.
Although the alleged crimes were committed in Mexico, the four were arrested in the United States and charged in Texas.
Security has been a priority along the 2,000-mile border since Sept. 11, but Consul Thomas Armbruster has said there was little risk that anyone who received a fraudulent visa posed a national security threat.
Agents with the diplomatic security service received numerous tips that an employee was involved in a visa-selling scheme before the investigation began in May, according to the affidavit by Special Agent James Burke.
After making contact with prospective customers outside, Ochoa allegedly went into the consulate and gave the names to Partida.

He steered the applicants to the desk manned by Ayala, where their applications would be taken and they would be photographed and fingerprinted, according to the affidavit.
Partida issued the visas without ever interviewing the applicants, it states.
"Once the visa was issued, the applicant would pay the predetermined fee to ... Ochoa outside the consulate," the document states. "Ochoa, in turn, would split this fee with ... Ayala" and Partida, it said.

Torres' alleged role is not outlined in the affidavit.
Across the border from Laredo, Texas, the consulate received more than 300,000 applications for non-immigrant visas from tourists, students, scholars and border residents during 2001.
U.S. officials say the consulate should reopen soon.
"We believe that the office will be ready to open for appointments by the end of the week," Armbruster said.

File Name :
Two diplomats indicted in US_for visa fraud_other western embassies

US inspector tried to smuggle 200 Indians!  
Sat, Apr 24, 2004.

Newark: A federal airport inspector pleaded guilty on Friday in a scheme to smuggle nearly 200 Indian nationals into the United States through Newark Liberty International Airport.
Terence Walden, 35, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to taking a $4,000 bribe from a smuggler who needed help getting illegal immigrants past inspectors from the US Customs and Border Protection agency.

In a court appearance before US District Court Judge Dennis M Cavanaugh, Walden, a senior inspector with the agency, admitted keeping half the bribe and giving the other half to another inspector, Otis L Rackley.
Rackley was charged last year and is awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy to encourage illegal aliens to come to the United States and accepting bribes.

"I don't think its lost on anyone the serious security issues raised in this corruption scheme among a small group of individuals tasked with guarding our borders," US Attorney Christopher Christie said. Rackley and three others were arrested in December after an investigation that began when a confidential witness told federal agents that Rackley was using his position at the airport to illegally admit aliens into US.

One of the others charged, Chetna Pandya, 59, pleaded guilty earlier this month, admitting she paid Rackley to provide illegal aliens with immigration documents and to help whisk them through customs. Two others, Sudhir Passi, 38, and Shripad Shrotri, 45, are awaiting trial on conspiracy charges. Both Walden and Pandya face up to 15 years in prison when they are sentenced. Walden was released on $50,000 bail until his Aug. 9 sentencing. 

©AFP 2000.All rights reserved. This material should not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed. All reproduction or redistribution is expressly forbidden without the prior written agreement of AFP.

Fake drivers licenses easy to obtain

By Bob Hager and Bob Sullivan, MSNBC and NBC News

Armed with fictitious birth certificates, utility bills, out-of-state licenses and other falsified documents, congressional investigators easily convinced motor vehicle agency employees around the country to issue genuine drivers licenses, a security flaw that could open the door to future terrorist attacks, a government report to be released Tuesday says.
THE REPORT from the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, will be released Tuesday at a Senate hearing on national security.

Agents operating undercover in seven states and the District of Columbia, ultimately obtained drivers licenses at every agency where they applied during the investigation, which began in July 2002. Fake driver's licenses could enable terrorists to board airplanes or open bank accounts without detection, the report suggests. "As far as driver's license issuing is concerned we're no more safe from terrorists than we were before September the 11th," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which is holding Tuesday's hearings.

"The findings showed me that there isn't a state in the nation geared up to being concerned about fake IDs before giving a driver's license." Investigators used obviously fake documents which should have been easily identified, Grassley said. "It's very, very easy to get fake documents," Grassley said. "The documents that were used in the investigation were meant to be clearly fake ... and yet every one of them got a license."

The report comes on the heels of a study released last week by the Federal Trade Commission indicating incidence of identity theft is much higher than government officials had previously believed. An FTC survey estimated that 3.3 million people were victims of full-blown identity theft last year. Another 6.7 million people were hit by credit card fraud and other account takeovers.


In many of the eight locations, investigators were initially turned away by motor vehicle employees who initially spotted problems with the applicants' documents. But the fake paperwork was never confiscated and law enforcement officials were never notified. So the agents merely left the motor vehicle office, addressed the problems, and re-applied -- often on the same day -- with success.

In Virginia, the first state tested, an undercover agent was at first turned away because the birth date on the fake birth certificate didn't match the birthday associated with the fraudulent social security number. The clerk handed the paperwork back to the agent and "apologized for being unable to assist him," according to the report.

Six days later, the same agent went to another motor vehicle office with a new set of paperwork, making sure the birthdays matched. He got the license. Getting a Maryland license proved a bit trickier, but agents were able to beat the system there on their third DMV visit. On first attempt, the DMV clerk noticed the fake birth certificate did not include a state or county seal, and the texture of the paper was suspicious. But again, the fake documents were returned to the agent -- in direct violation of a Maryland DMV policy which tells workers there to confiscate such documents and send a Teletype within 15 minutes alerting all state offices of the suspicious transaction, the GAO report says.

A week later, agents were turned down again by a Maryland DMV because employees there said the agent didn't have the required documents to establish Maryland residency. On third visit, armed with a utility bill, the agent got a license.

Given heightened security concerns since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, said he was surprised by the lack of vigilance by motor vehicle agencies. I think most surprising, is that ... people are pretty casual at department of motor vehicles," Baucus, the committee's top Democrat, said. "I expected after 9-11 that people would be a little more vigilant and understand that driver's licenses are pretty important."


The most serious vulnerabilities appeared in California, where agents managed to complete the process to receive three temporary state driver's licenses within two days using the same fake information. On one occasion, after one agent failed the standard eye test, a second agent stepped in for him, passed the eye test, then handed the successful results to the first agent, who had his photo taken for the license. Simultaneously, a third investigator was using the same data on another line in the same office; he also was issued a temporary license.

"No one at the DMV noticed that two individuals were simultaneously using the same fictitious name and same fraudulent supporting paperwork," the report says. And perhaps more troubling, that undercover agent had already received a temporary license a day earlier from a different location, using the same name. On Aug. 20 of last year, the agent supplied a fake out-of-state West Virginia license as verification of identity and managed to get the California license. On Aug. 21, using the same name but a fake Texas license, he got a California license again, even after the clerk noticed the agent had received a temporary license the day before. The agent simply said he'd lost the first license, and the DMV clerk issued a second California license "without questioning the story further."

Other locations that ultimately failed the GAO test: Washington D.C., South Carolina, Arizona, Michigan, and New York.


"That means there is no risk to the person trying to obtain the false driver's license."

The test was very realistic, said Douglas, whose American Privacy Consultants firm advises banks and other financial institutions on identity theft. Criminals often probe security controls several times until they find the right formula for success.

"That's the way the real bad guys work. They keep pinging away, looking for the soft underbelly of the security procedure."

In the weeks after Sept. 11, state-issued identifications cards -- principally driver's licenses -- drew much attention from security experts as a systematic weakness. With each state issuing its own forms of identification, there are hundreds of acceptable forms of state-issued photo ID.

"If one can get a counterfeit driver's license so easily today, we've got to do something about that," Baucus said.

For some, national ID cards would go a long way toward solving the problem. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison offered to donate the software needed to create national ID cards soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Opponents say such a card would endanger civil liberties and give the federal government too much data about individual citizens and there whereabouts.

But Douglas said the current situation -- he thinks there are about 400 state ID formats currently -- is untenable.
"Behind the scenes we need to have standardization so an ID card from Virginia can be verified using the same software as an ID card from California. To me that's common sense," Douglas said. "Otherwise, there are forms of identification that most people in their own state can't recognize, much less neighboring states."
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