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Tijuana Resident Impersonated U.S. Citizen to Steal $361,000 in Government Benefits

medicare FILE - In this July 12, 2008 file photo, a gavel rests on the table of a model court room at Mexico's National Institute of Penal Sciences in Mexico City. The model courtroom has been used by students to prepare for the new legal system that will replace its …
AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File
Newport Beach, CA

A Mexican citizen living in Tijuana with 40 aliases was sent to U.S. prison after admitting he assumed an American identity to collect almost $361,000 in government benefits fraudulently.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California announced that Andres Avelino Anduaga, a Mexican citizen living in Tijuana, had admitted to obtaining a valid birth certificate of a United States citizen fraudulently in 1980, and then obtaining a valid California Driver’s License and a Social Security card.

Anduaga used the stolen identity of Abraham Riojos, a U.S. citizen from a rural Florida town, to apply for and collect Social Security disability benefits beginning in 1989. Over the next 27 years, Anduaga collected $244,441 in monthly Social Security benefits, and another $100,000 in Medi-Cal health benefits from the State of California.

Anduaga also admitted that he was a convicted U.S. felon under the name “Jose Reyes” who had been deported from the U.S. at least twice, including 1994 and 2000.

Despite his fingerprints and photo being on a criminal file with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Anduaga was able to use his stolen identity’s birth certificate to obtain a valid U.S. passport that allowed him to cross the Mexican-American border freely.

The investigation that eventually entrapped Anduaga began in 2014, when the Social Security office in Chula Vista alerted its Office of the Inspector General that private mailboxes near the border might have been be connected to residency fraud, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

During a standard Social Security benefits review in 2015, a man claiming to be Riojos was using residency address of a mailbox rental facility on San Ysidro Boulevard. When required to appear for an office interview, the individual presented a California ID card identifying himself as Riojos and claiming to rent a room from a Chula Vista man.

An investigator with the California Department of Health Care Services called the man during the Riojos interview,  andthe man confirmed the roommate situation. But when investigators visited the home in January 2016, the man admitted that Riojos had never lived there and was living in Mexico.

The Union-Tribune reported that a follow up investigation found that another person had tried to sign up for Social Security disability benefits in Oceanside, California, using a fake birth certificate with the same date and birthplace as the one for the Riojos name.

Further research found the initial man claiming to be Riojos had a criminal record under 21 aliases and six dates of birth stretching back to 1974, including gun violations, forgery, drug possession and multiple DUIs.

When the Social Security disability payments Anduaga was collecting were terminated in 2016, he signed up as Riojos and began receiving CalFresh Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits from San Diego County. Until being arrested in November 2017, Anduaga pocketed another $12,000 in CalFresh payments, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Anduaga faced up to 12 years in federal prison, full restitution for public assistance programs and a fine of up to $971,817.70. But based on his plea bargain, Anduaga was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Houston on July 13 to only 37 months in federal penitentiary — one for every year he cheated the U.S. — and ordered to repay $360,908.85 in restitution to the Social Security Administration, the California Department of Health Care Services, and the County of San Diego.

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