Colorado: immigration raids target tax filers

On Nov. 12 and 13, sheriff’s deputies in Weld County, Colo., arrested 13 people in “Operation Number Games,” a round-up of suspects who allegedly filed tax returns using suspicious Social Security numbers. Two more suspects were arrested in the sweep on Nov. 14. The suspects were identified from information uncovered in an Oct. 17 search of Amalia’s Translation and Tax Services, a business in Greeley that primarily serves immigrants. As of Nov. 14, the District Attorney’s office had presented a total of 98 cases. Deputies said they were continuing to search for suspects named on warrants while they wait for a judge to act on additional warrant requests. The investigation is expected to last for a year or more, with possibly more than 1,300 arrests. Weld DA Ken Buck said he believes a majority of the suspects will ultimately be charged with felony criminal impersonation rather than the more serious charge of identity theft.

The raids follow the Aug. 13 arrest of Servando Trejo, a Mexican immigrant who had used the Social Security number of a Texas resident. Trejo told a Weld County Sheriff’s Office detective that he bought the ID in Texas after he crossed the border in 1995. He used the ID to get jobs, obtain loans, get a Colorado driver’s license and pay taxes, which in recent years he filed through Amalia’s Translation and Tax Services. According to Trejo’s arrest affidavit, Amalia Cerrillo told authorities she helped Trejo and other clients who came in with false Social Security numbers apply for Individual Tax Identification Numbers from the Internal Revenue Service, and then helped them file tax returns which typically showed both numbers. Investigators said they believe many of the people who filed returns received more money in refunds than they paid in taxes.

Authorities obtained a search warrant for Amalia’s by arguing they had probable cause to suspect more potential identity thieves had tax records on file there. The warrant only allowed them to seize 2006 and 2007 records, but in the Oct. 17 search at Amalia’s the sheriff’s deputies ended up seizing the tax returns of more than 4,000 people dating to 2000. “In looking there, they found other returns that violated the law, in their opinion, so that allowed them to take other returns as a result of them being in plain view,” explained Buck. (Greeley Tribune Via Acquire Media NewsEdge, Nov. 14; Greeley Tribune, Nov. 15)

From Immigration News Briefs, Nov. 22

See our last posts on the politics of immigration and the struggle in Colorado.