Dozens snared in Queens immigration sting

On Oct. 14, federal and local agents carried out a massive raid on Roosevelt Avenue, the main commercial strip of the heavily immigrant neighborhood of Jackson Heights in northern Queens, New York City. While the operation was supposedly targeting individuals accused of involvement in a fraudulent document ring, Spanish-language news reports cited witnesses saying that dozens of immigrants—possibly as many as 100—who had nothing to do with the fake IDs were also swept up in the raid. Witness Rodrigo Arce told the Spanish-language television news channel Telemundo that agents used plastic netting to trap people who were standing there talking or passing by. “They were asking people to show documents,” he said. (Telemundo 47, Oct. 16) Rosario Ruiz, an employee of a Colombian bakery, said she witnessed “more than 100 arrests.” Ruiz confirmed that people who just happened to be walking on the crowded avenue that Sunday afternoon were among those arrested. According to Ruiz, “Of those arrested, and there were a lot, 80% were Mexicans who were passing by here.” (El Diario La Prensa, Oct. 16)

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced at a press conference on Oct. 16 that the raid was part of an operation targeting suspects involved in the production and sale of fraudulent identity documents. Brown said an inter-agency taskforce was formed in October 2005 after the DA’s Counter-Terrorism Unit received information from the Queens Gang Squad of the New York Police Department (NYPD) that fake government documents were being manufactured and sold on Roosevelt Avenue. Brown said the investigation led to the indictment of 41 people on various charges including enterprise corruption, forgery, conspiracy and criminal possession of forgery devices. Of the 41 people indicted, 20 were in custody, said Brown; the remainder were being sought. According to Brown, more than 40 suspects were arrested over the weekend, including the alleged ringleader; he did not say whether the other 20-plus arrestees—those not named in the indictment—were charged with anything. (WABC Eyewitness News, Queens, Oct. 16; Queens Tribune, Oct. 20; Queens County District Attorney press release, Oct. 16)

“Today’s indictments are the result of a two-year investigation that included months of court-authorized eavesdropping and video surveillance and thousands of intercepted telephone calls,” Brown said in a press release. “During the investigation hundreds of arrests were made of those purchasing fraudulent documents and numerous search warrants were executed resulting in the closure of a number of fraudulent identification mills and the seizure of thousands of completed, semi-completed and blank forged government identification documents.” (QCDA press release, Oct. 16)

Brown said most of the suspects are undocumented residents from Mexico. NYPD Deputy Inspector Robert Boyce claimed that at least 12 of the 41 suspects indicted are members of the M-18, Surenos 13 or Vatos Locos gangs. (Queens Tribune, Oct. 20) The investigation involved city and state police, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the Social Security Administration and the state branch of the Secret Service. (Times Ledger, Queens, Oct. 18) Brown also “expressed his appreciation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for their assistance during the investigation,” according to the press release.

Seventeen of the defendants named in the indictment were arraigned on Oct. 15 before Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard Buchter on charges of enterprise corruption, forgery, criminal possession of a forged instrument, criminal possession of forgery devices and conspiracy. Two other defendants were arrested in Los Angeles, and a third was arrested in New Jersey. (QCDA press release, Oct. 16)

From Immigration News Briefs, Nov. 4

See our last posts on the immigration crackdown, and fear in New York City.