20 nabbed in fake-ID operations
The Arizona Republic
May. 31, 2007 12:00 AM
Fraudulent ID and other documents can be made in as little as 30 minutes and purchased in the Phoenix area for $100.
Even, it turns out, if you're seeking forged documents under the name of a most-wanted suspect or would-be terrorist. State and local authorities say that's one of the lessons from a series of raids Wednesday that netted 20 arrests in the metro area.
Illustrating the size and scope of the problem, Assistant Phoenix Police Chief Bill Lewis said, "We potentially have thousands of people out there in our community right now who have fraudulent documents." His agency was among nearly two dozen that participated in the investigations.
The arrests capped a three-month inquiry, with authorities seizing $17,000 in cash, 17 computers and 15 vehicles. Seven of the vehicles had been reported stolen, including one taken during an armed carjacking in Phoenix last month.
Showing that nearly anyone can obtain forged ID under any name, undercover officers purchased fake documents under the names of a most-wanted criminal and a suspected terrorist arrested in a suspected plot against Fort Dix. A member of the "Fort Dix Six," Serdar Tatar is being held at a federal detention center in Philadelphia for his role in a plan to attack the military base 25 miles east of the city.
Given Tatar's notoriety, officers were curious whether they would be able to obtain a document in his name. "Unfortunately, they were successful," said Leesa Berens Morrison, director of the Arizona Department of Homeland Security. In both cases, falsified permanent resident IDs and Social Security cards were created in 30 minutes and purchased for $100.
Document forgers feed the trade in illegal immigration by providing fake documents for migrants seeking an identity to work and travel in the United States. That was the pretense for each document purchase made by undercover officers who helped spur the raids Wednesday morning.
Hours later, the spoils were on display in an eighth-floor Executive Tower conference room at the Capitol. Stacks of cash, fraudulent Social Security cards, computers and printers, even a handful of mobile phones - one of which rang during the media briefing.
Law enforcement officials participating under the state's Fraudulent Identification Task Force hope the arrests will help make a dent in the forgery practice, though it remains widespread. One of the raid sites turned up 15,000 blank ID cards.
Law enforcement officials believe that one of the operations was using fraudulent vehicle titles, Motor Vehicle Department power-of-attorney documents and temporary registration permits to transport stolen vehicles to Central America, where they were to be sold.