DENVER – Federal authorities said Wednesday they had disrupted a far-flung ring that made counterfeit immigration and identification documents, and they hope to extradite the alleged leader from Mexico.
Authorities said the fake Social Security cards, driver's licenses and other documents were so sophisticated that only a crime lab could distinguish them from the real thing.
An indictment accuses Pedro Castorena-Ibarra (search) of Guadalajara, Mexico, of overseeing cells in more than a dozen cities across the country. Cell leaders paid a "franchise fee" to get in on the operation, said Marcy Forman, director of investigations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A federal grand jury indicted Castorena-Ibarra, 42, on five counts of fraud and conspiracy last week. Acting U.S. Attorney Bill Leone (search) said federal authorities will work with Mexican authorities to extradite Castorena-Ibarra, who faces a maximum 65 years in prison if convicted on all counts. Leone said a 20-year sentence would be more likely.
Also indicted was Francisco Javier Miranda-Espinosa (search), accused of running the Denver cell. He was arrested on immigration charges in January at his apartment in suburban Aurora, where authorities found fake documents and equipment to make them.
The indictment accuses Miranda-Espinosa of fraud, conspiracy and identity theft.
Ten other people were arrested, and authorities seized document-making equipment in Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.
Authorities said the indictments will hurt the ring but not break it up. They said the organization has bounced back from the convictions of numerous members in the past decade.