RICHMOND, Va. – A federal jury on Tuesday convicted a member of a multistate document fraud ring of kidnapping and murdering a rival fake-ID seller in Arkansas.
After hearing eight days of witness testimony and viewing a mountain of evidence, the jury deliberated about six hours before convicting Edy Oliverez-Jiminez on six counts, including kidnapping and murder in aid of racketeering. The jury acquitted Oliverez-Jiminez on four firearms-related counts.
The defendant, listening to a Spanish-language translator through earphones, showed no emotion as the verdict was announced. U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson set sentencing for March 2. Oliverez-Jiminez faces a possible life term.
Defense attorney Paul Gregorio said an appeal is likely.
Prosecutors said Oliverez-Jiminez was a cell leader in a Mexico-based fake ID enterprise that protected its lucrative turf with threats, extortion and beatings. They claimed that in July 2010, Oliverez-Jiminez and other unknown conspirators lured a competitor to an abandoned mobile home in Little Rock and beat him to death.
Thirty people were indicted in the case, and Oliverez-Jiminez was the only one who went to trial. Twenty-six pleaded guilty, two are fugitives and the identity of one remains unknown.
"We have never seen a document fraud case like this anywhere in the nation -- a group so organized and so intent on profiting from fake IDs that they stopped at nothing to take out their rivals," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a written statement after the trial.
"These guys are like a pack of wolves," prosecutor Michael Gill said earlier in closing arguments. "They do not hesitate to target people who get in their way."
One such person, he said, was Pasqual Ramos Jr. He said Ramos, 17, was just getting started in the fake-ID business when he was bound and blindfolded with duct tape and beaten to death. Adrian Ceja, a 16-year-old associate of Ramos, also was assaulted but escaped, according to the government. Oliverez-Jiminez later moved to Virginia Beach to avoid the investigation in Arkansas, prosecutors said.
Defense attorney Joseph Peluso Jr. said in closing arguments that the approximately 30 witnesses and extensive cell phone records and bookkeeping ledgers introduced into evidence failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Oliverez-Jiminez was involved in the slaying.
"The government has thrown everything at you but the kitchen sink, and the fact is 90 percent of it has nothing to do with my client," Peluso told the jury.
The defense, which called no witnesses, did not dispute Oliverez-Jiminez's involvement in the fake ID enterprise but did fight the counts related to the slaying.
Among the prosecution's evidence was store security video of Oliverez-Jiminez and others buying duct tape and other items found at the crime scene, and the defendant's fingerprints on a shopping bag left in the trailer.
Prosecutors also cited the testimony of multiple witnesses who linked Oliverez-Jiminez to the slaying. Peluso questioned their credibility, however, saying their stories evolved over time and some of them received immunity or other breaks in exchange for their cooperation with prosecutors.
According to the indictment, ring leader Israel Cruz Millan of Raleigh, N.C., supervised cell managers in 19 cities in Virginia, Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee. Those managers oversaw the production of false identification documents, including Social Security and permanent resident alien cards, and supervised "runners" who sold the bogus IDs to illegal immigrants for $150 to $250 per set.
Rival document sellers were not the only victims of the ring's violence, prosecutors said. Members of the enterprise who violated internal rules were subject to punishment, including shaving of eyebrows, wearing weights and beatings.
Millan, 26, pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges the same day Oliverez-Jiminez's trial started. Millan faces up to 55 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 16.