Co-defendants accused of orchestrating a scheme in which they promised U.S. citizenship and other relevant documents for a fee, pleaded guilty on fraud charges in a South Texas federal courtroom.
Beatriz Adriana Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen and a South Texas resident, and Francisco Santiago Rodriguez-Nuñez, a Mexican national, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez to avoid a trial scheduled for December, according to the Monitor.
For nearly three years, the pair posted “fraudulent” information over Facebook asserting they could “obtain, immigration status and/or driver’s license” in exchange for money, according to the complaint.
Rodriguez pleaded guilty to 47 counts of attempted and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Rodriguez-Nuñez, who went by the alias Marcos Garcia-Rodriguez, also pleaded guilty to the same mail fraud charges a well as one count of unauthorized fees for inspection of vessels, according to the Monitor. In exchange for their guilty pleas, the U.S. government agreed to dismiss the remaining charges against them.
In July, the co-conspirators each were indicted on 47 federal counts of fraud. Rodriguez also faced 14 counts of fraud and scams as well as 32 counts of fraud using any means of communication. Rodriguez Nuñez received an additional two counts of false impersonation and one count of re-entry of deported foreigners, totaling 50 federal charges.
A four-page attachment to the indictment obtained by the Monitor stated Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in McAllen, Texas, learned about the purported citizenship scheme in 2017 from a complaint lodged against the scammers with the Office of Professional Responsibility. It also alleged the co-defendants were siblings.
Subsequently, HSI agents conducted an undercover operation and learned how the ruse worked. A victim would call a phone number posted online by the co-defendants. Rodriguez Nuñez claimed to be a general manager for the Social Security Administration and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles in Mission. He “promised an individual that he could help him obtain legal documents and a driver’s license.”
When asked for proof of his credentials, Rodriguez Nuñez purportedly texted or mailed a photo copy of a fictitious government ID with the name “Roberto Garcia R.”
After gaining a caller’s trust, Rodriguez Nuñez instructed the individual to make payments to his accomplice, Rodriguez, through Money Gram or Western Union, according to the attachment. The Monitor reported he also told victims to send money orders or through the mail. Upon receiving funds from victims, the pair would make money wire transfers.
Several weeks later, Rodriguez Nuñez called a victim, claiming to have “run into issues with the cards” and requested “another deposit for several thousand dollars.” Ultimately, a person “would never hear back” from the pair or receive any documents. Further phone calls only took place when Rodriguez Nuñez requested more money “claiming that another problem presented itself.”
If a victim failed to pay, one of the co-defendants left bogus Department of Homeland Security (DHS) voicemails, advising if the individual did not contact DHS by a certain date they “may be arrested and/or deported,” according to court documents.
One complainant later told authorities he sent $11,010 through a money service to Rodriguez. Another paid only $500. HSI agents determined that between August 2015 to August 2017, Rodriguez received more than $50,000 in Money Gram payments.
Federal agents also learned that some of these individuals sent fingerprint cards and passport photos, along with U.S. currency, through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), according to the complaint. USPS inspector records showed that between June 21, 2017 and June 1, 2018, roughly 55 “priority” and “express mail” pieces and two first class mail items were delivered to Rodriguez’s Pharr P.O.Box that, allegedly, was obtained for “residential/personal use” or non-business purposes. Furthermore, much of the mail “originated from 11 different states and many locations in Texas,” although none came from the Rio Grande Valley,” according to the complaint attachment.
Federal authorities requested seizing nearly $100,000 in U.S. currency as a monetary punishment against the co-defendants. This reflected the total estimated dollar amount they took in wire payments from victims between November 2015 and July 2018.
Rodriguez and Rodriguez Nuñez remain in federal custody. They will return to court in February for sentencing.