Authorities arrest 18 for allegedly selling fake docs

July 24, 2010 8:27:10 PM PDT
More than a dozen people are facing charges after a raid at a flea market in northeast Harris County. The arrests were made after a months-long investigation by a task force with the Department of Homeland Security. Eighteen people went to the flea market to work Saturday and instead were arrested. They're now spending the weekend at the federal detention center and could face a whole lot more time in jail.

At Sunny Flea Market on the north side, the busy Saturday business was slowed this afternoon when local and federal officers swept in with arrest warrants.

Carlos Perez, a shoe shop owner, got caught up in the raid and has blisters on his hands to show for it.

"They start getting people and putting them on their knees and actually they got me. I don't do nothing wrong. They grabbed me and throw me to the van and it was hot," said Perez.

Eighteen people were arrested, all accused of making and selling fake documents out of the flea market. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents led the operation but this wasn't about immigration status.

"They're being arrested on criminal violations, not administrative, all criminal violations," said Michael Feinberg, ICE Special Agent in Charge.

The arrests come after a months-long investigation by a newly formed Homeland Security Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force. This it's first large scale arrest operation.

"Everybody brings their own specialties to try to identify different documents that could be potentially counterfeited or fake, for instance, social security card, drivers license, immigration documents and so on," said Feinberg.

Breaking up document fraud rings has been a focus for Homeland Security. Fake identity documents, like the ones in handcuffs are accusing of creating, lead to immigration fraud says Houston's acting special agent in charge as well as other criminal activity.

"Somebody could change their identity," Feinberg said. "It could be a fugitive who could change their name to someone else and be walking around with a separate set of identity."

According to ICE's website, document fraud has helped criminals and even terrorists live among us. ICE today would not provide details about how this ring worked, but we hope to learn more on Monday when the 18 people in custody are in federal court.

We did call Sunny Flea Market, but the person who answered quickly hung up on us.

Houston has one of the 18 Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces in the country. Nationwide since April 2006, they've been involved in close to 2,500 cases, with almost 1,500 people convicted in those cases.


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