5 New Mexico residents linked to immigrant driver's license fraud ring

Five Albuquerque-area residents were named in a recently unsealed federal indictment connected to what authorities say is a multistate scam abusing New Mexico's law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

Federal investigators say 30 people from five states were involved in a scheme using false documents to fraudulently obtain New Mexico driver's licenses for illegal immigrants in other states.

New Mexico and Washington state are the only states that allow illegal immigrants to obtain the same driver's license as a U.S. citizen, but proof of a local address is required.

The indictment unsealed late Tuesday said the New Mexico residents would help people in South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia get the licenses.

"It was part of the conspiracy that individuals who were in the country illegally ... and not residents of New Mexico, would obtain driver's licenses from New Mexico using false documents and through false representations," the indictment said.

About 92,000 foreign national licenses have been issued in New Mexico since 2003. Out of those, only 16,000 license holders filed a state income tax return this year, officials say.

The indictment comes after authorities earlier this month busted up a driver's license fraud ring in the eastern New Mexico communities of Clovis and Portales.

In the latest case, the homes and businesses of a Rio Rancho man and four Albuquerque residents were raided Tuesday by federal and state authorities in connection with a South Carolina-based scheme.

Among those indicted were Albuquerque residents Ivon Baray-Luna, 31; Alfred Padilla, 47; Victor Alvarez, 25; Elizabeth "La Guera" Lopez, 42; and Rio Rancho resident Alfredo Saenz, 39.

It was unclear if any had attorneys.

Demesia Padilla, secretary of the state Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees New Mexico's Motor Vehicle Division, said her department was notified about the ring in November 2011 and began to monitor questionable transactions. Since then, Padilla said state officials have identified at least 164 driver's licenses linked to the ring, and those are in the process of being canceled.

She also said state officials expect to find more questionable licenses connected to the ring and other busts from different schemes in the future.

"It's going to continue to be this way until legislators do the right thing," Padilla said.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has repeatedly pressed state lawmakers to repeal New Mexico's law over fraud concerns.

"New Mexico's driver's license policy has once again attracted criminal elements to our state in pursuit of a government-issued identification card," Martinez said in a statement. "Our current system jeopardizes the safety and security of all New Mexicans and it is abundantly clear that the only way to solve this problem is to repeal the law that gives driver's licenses to illegal immigrants."