Atwater man among nine arrested in Central Valley for passport fraud

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 2, 2013 

Nine Central Valley residents were arrested for passport fraud in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service.

Dean K. Shear, Special-Agent-In-Charge of the DSS office in San Francisco, said there's an average of 10 passport fraud arrests in the valley each year -- and that number remains low because of aggressive law enforcement.

In 2011, the DSS investigated 3,969 domestic cases involving visa or passport fraud.

There are three main reasons behind passport fraud: fugitives want to flee the country, undocumented immigrants want to work or travel home freely, and sex offenders don't want to register with authorities.

Shear said other people committing fraud include drug traffickers and foreign nationals trying to work and live in the United States.

The Diplomatic Security Service takes many measures to prevent passport fraud and investigate potential cases.

Every passport and visa application is scrutinized through security programs in addition to being screened by a trained passport specialist, according to Shear.

For example, if a person applies for a passport after one has already been issued, there will be a flag that someone is trying to obtain multiple passports with the same identity.

Shear said the department also cross-checks several databases, including death records.

There are several things valley residents can do to safeguard their information against passport fraud.

People should keep a close eye on their credit history to ensure others are not using their credit or ID.

Also, it's important to protect your identity documents, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards and passports.

According to Shear, one document in particular -- your passport -- should be the most closely guarded.

"The U.S. passport is the most coveted travel document in the world," Shear said in a press release. "There are foreign nationals who attempt to fraudulently acquire U.S. passports to carry out criminal activities, including terrorism, inside our borders."

The nine Central Valley residents arrested for passport fraud in 2012 have been accused of applying for U.S. passports using counterfeit, stolen or other unlawfully-obtained citizenship and identity documentation.

The list of those arrested includes Francisco Lopez of Atwater; Patricia Brambila of Fresno; Norma Gonzalez-Martinez of Fresno; Raul Avino-Lopez of Fresno; Ramiro R. Barboza of Manteca; Arturo Vazquez-Mendoza of Suisun City; Alejandro J. Portillo of Orosi; Elvia Hernandez, formerly of Stockton; and Gabriel Vazquez-Landino of Winton.

The maximum sentence for federal passport fraud is 10 years in prison.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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